After taking on Alice In Wonderland years prior for Disney, Tim Burton directed Dumbo, another live-action remake of one of the studio's own animated classics.
The original Dumbo was released way back in 1941 so, while it remains a brilliant film and one of Disney's best, a remake may not have been all that necessary but it was at least understandable in this instance. Tim Burton being no stranger to live-action remakes (and creepy circus settings), he was an obvious choice to direct, plus his unique visual style seemed like a good fit. The film opens promisingly with a lively Casey Jr. steam train montage in which Danny Elfman's joyful score shines as we are introduced to Max Medici's (Danny DeVito) circus at its most successful.
Cut to years later and the circus is struggling to generate the interest it used to so Medici purchases a pregnant elephant in order to present a brand new show. Meanwhile, ex-performer and WWI veteran Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell), who lost an arm during the war, returns to his family and is hired by Medici to take care of the elephants. When the surprisingly big-eared titular animal is born, this throws a wrench into Medici's plans and young Dumbo struggles to fit in.
Soon enough, Dumbo is separated from its mother and the circus is bought by V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), a flashy amusement park owner with his own plans for Dumbo. Burton being a champion of outsiders perceived as strange to the world in his movies, he handles Dumbo's more tragic moments very well, along with the elephant's sweet relationship with Farrier's kids, and he throws a good amount of weirdness at us, without overdoing it. Some scenes recreated from the original hit the mark (Dumbo's clown show, Casey Jr., Dumbo's mother getting locked up) while others don't ("Pink Elephants On Parade" is a disappointment) so, as far as live-action Disney remakes of their own animated classics go, this is about as good as most of them: not bad but not great either.
While Burton himself shows a lack of care in some parts of the film, it's the writing that really prevents this one from being great: Ehren Kruger's script is often too bloated, too full of plot-holes and too inept to carry what should have been a pretty simple story. By the end, the film seems to have forgotten what elephants are, how bubbles work and what the film was about in the first place.
There was a truly brilliant remake in there somewhere but the structure of Tim Burton's Dumbo is too weak to pull it off. There are good scenes, appealing visuals and fun performances to be found, Dumbo himself is cute, but by the time the messy third act hits, you'll just be flashing back to how good the original was.
Sweet but uneven.