Make it Stop

The Tim Burton-directed adaptation is Dumbo seen through the eyes of a manic depressive. While sentimentality runs through Dumbo (softly eyeing an era of strongmen and mermaids with nostalgia), it’s too often oppressive or even outright cruel.

Dumbo opens on old America. Farmers stop and gawk at the train, Casey Jr., as it rolls by their crops. Kids run through fields, excitedly chasing the circus. Then Colin Farrell steps off and greets his kids. He lost an arm in the war. Their mother? She’s dead. Cut from shocked looks and awkward hugs to a circus trainer wailing on an elephant who just gave birth. To not consider the reality of circus life for animals in the early 1900s – Dumbo’s setting – would mean producing a movie with blinders on. Dumbo though takes those blinders off, opens its eyes wide, and keeps them open with toothpicks.

As first envisioned by Disney, Dumbo told a story of rejection and redemption, with a lesson of learning to use what makes you an individual. Inspiring, colorful, and even trippy. In live action, the charm is gone. Casey Jr. doesn’t struggle up a mountain. Pink elephants dance via a dull bubble blowing act. Trying to balance magical realism with genuine stakes creates a film superficially dramatic. It’s obviously staged and canned. Nearly all of this is shot on green screen with strictly choreographed movement, surreal in proper context. Dumbo isn’t that context.

another contemporary narrative spat with capitalism, as if the remake of a cherished property isn’t movie capitalism in its purest form

There’s nearly two hours of runtime to fill now. Unnecessary and languishing, there’s a daughter who feels rejected when her father won’t accept her scientific efforts; her brother barely matters, other than mourning for mom because this is Disney and dead parents turn profits. Michael Keaton fills the most space though, a typical millionaire, buying the tiny, struggling circus to use as an act in his new mega theme park. Then he fires them all. It’s odd: Keaton plays an angry, exploitative caricature of Walt Disney, but one lacking in human connection or morality. An odd choice for a studio founded on childlike playfulness.

Spitefulness is fine, even daring in kid’s cinema. It has to go somewhere though. It has to mean something. Dumbo’s original be yourself message is still here, just under the weight of another contemporary narrative spat with capitalism, as if the remake of a cherished property isn’t movie capitalism in its purest form. In the late stages, Dumbo begins smashing the control panel of Keaton’s mega park, leaving Keaton to spout, “What happened to my power?” an eye-rolling line of forced purpose.

And still, Dumbo get worse. Disney paid famed ring announcer Michael Buffer for two cameos, and both times he recites, “Let’s get ready for Dumbo!” Who needs an anti-capitalist saga when capitalism allowed that to happen?

Video

With a vast majority of Dumbo taking place in front of green screen, the hazy, dreamlike aesthetic keeps the imagery softened. It’s an appealing softness, even out of character with the rest of Dumbo’s pervasive sadness. Expect light detail from this 2K source. Most of that resides on Dumbo himself; elephant skin texture is sublime at 4K.

Graded with heavy earth tones, color skews warm with few scenes acting as exceptions. Some nighttime blues and slightly overcast looks at Keaton’s park break with the inviting hues. Primaries stand out where possible, richly saturated. With the aid of HDR, lights from Ferris wheels and other attractions create pop.

Expect little true black as Dumbo’s nostalgic eyes keep everything muted. Mostly, dense grays fill in pockets of shadow. Contrast has pep though, providing a number of rich sun-lit scenes and intense fire.

Audio

Dumbo flies a lot. In the rears. Through the fronts. Overhead. Front to back. This elephant is everywhere. Atmos is the right fit, flawless in keeping Dumbo moving about and around. Circuses light up the soundstage with activity, crowds making themselves known. Voices reverb properly. The camera pans through Keaton’s park with the soundstage erupting in activity, including a roller coaster overhead and a well populated parade.

What’s missing? Well, it’s Disney. Range is pathetic: Dumbo drops nearly all low-end punch. When a full-size elephant rears up and stomps, the subwoofer flatlines. No scale and no weight is noted in this Atmos track. So, again, this is Disney.

Extras

Over on the Blu-ray, a few featurettes with nice production value if limited information make up extras menu’s bulk – one on the circus’ design, another on Dumbo, and finally one on set details. In total, they add up to 20-minutes. Nine deleted scenes make it to eight minutes, a breakdown of the various easter eggs follows, with a gag reel coming in almost last. A music video earns the final spot.

Dumbo
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The Tim Burton-directed Dumbo is a nightmare adaptation, unnecessarily fattened with crude themes and weak lessons for kids.

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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our Patreon-exclusive set of 49 full 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: