Disney’s animated classic Dumbo is a slim movie, with a runtime just over an hour and few wrinkles to its story. It feels among the least likely of their animated catalog to merit the full live action remake treatment. But other than Marvel and Star Wars movies, live action remakes of animated movies is what Disney does these days. The live action Dumbo clocks in at nearly two hours long and gives almost no one what they wanted to see. However, the movie is just charming enough to make it hard to hate.
The story of Dumbo is of a big eared baby elephant who learns to fly. This adaptation adds plot elements from what seems like three other movies to pad it out to full feature length. There is a story about Colin Farrell’s Holt Farrier, a circus equestrian and WW1 veteran freshly returned from the war. He lost an arm in the war and his wife died while he was away. He has to pick himself back up and keep things together for his two kids. His son exists and that’s about it, but his daughter doesn’t want to follow in her parents footsteps as part of the circus but instead wants to be a scientist. Holt’s struggles are exacerbated by the fact that while he was gone, the ringleader, Max Medici, sold his horses to keep the circus afloat. Holt is the center around which the movie revolves, but there isn’t enough done with his struggles to make it the center plank of the movie. Medici, played by the always delightful Danny Devito, takes up another chunk of the movie dealing with him struggling to keep the circus viable and eventually going into business with the transparently shady V.A. Vandervere. Vandervere, of course, is only interested in the flying elephant. The movie introduces a dozen or so characters and a half dozen plots, all because it is unwilling, for good reason, to focus on the spectacle of a flying elephant.
The problem is that Dumbo flying doesn’t look that amazing in live action. It looked really interesting in traditional animation, but this CGI realistic facsimile inspires little awe. Really, the movie is missing so much of what makes the original version so entertaining. The most memorable part of the movie was the Pink Elephants on parade sequence, when Dumbo sneaks some of the circus laborers liquor and has drunken hallucinations of pink elephants on parade. That scene does not happen in live action movie, but it is replaced with a “realistic” copy that has none of the weird charm, it is merely there to remind you the think you liked in the old movie without actually giving you that thing you liked.
Somehow, though , the movie manages to be charming despite feeling like a mismatched grab-bag of other movies. A lot of that is thanks to uniformly strong performers being generally very charming. Devito, Farrell, Eva Green and Michael Keaton are all doing something. It is fairly enjoyable to watch them. Each of the four movies that its feels have been Frankensteined together could have been good if fully fleshed out, Dumbo merely gives you glimpses of them. It is not a good movie, but it is somehow charming despite being bad.