CREDIT: Disney Enterprises

Starring: Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Michael Keaton, Eva Green, Alan Arkin

Director: Tim Burton

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: PG for Steampunk-Style Circus-Based Peril and Implied PTSD

Release Date: March 29, 2019

CGI has become so commonplace in modern big-budget filmmaking that it is hard to be impressed anymore, even when there is clearly hundreds of millions of dollars worth of coding and manpower up on the screen. Correspondingly, the possibility of feeling a genuine connection with a computer-generated character often feels generally impossible. I would not expect that hurdle to be cleared by Disney’s live-action remake factory or late-era Tim Burton. But incredibly, the title baby pachyderm in Dumbo is one of the best CGI creations in a while. Ever, even. It usually seems that practical effects are necessary to create a spirit-filled non-human character, but this is something unique that could really only be achieved with digital technology. And it is amazingly quite soulful.

From the moment that Dumbo emerged from a pile of hay and looked up at everyone around him with his wonder-filled baby blues, I was enthralled. The magical floppy ears are just a bonus. But oh, what a bonus they are. Every single time that Dumbo took flight rendered me immediately choked up and awestruck. But as joyous as those moments are, I would have been won over by this little guy even he couldn’t fly. I loved seeing his eyes light up at the circus amusements (it’s the same thrill I get from watching YouTube videos of dogs who think that they’re people), especially the homage to the originals “Pink Elephants on Parade” done entirely through bubble form.

As for the human characters, and there are plenty of them, they mostly fill their roles admirably, but none are as unforgettable as Dumbo. Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins are delightful as a young brother-sister pair who have the closest connection to the beast, while Colin Farrell reliably pulls off the right emotional beats as their widowed father who lost an arm in World War I. Danny DeVito is right in his wheelhouse as a small-time circus ringmaster and owner who finds his full fatherly-protector spirit once he starts drawing in crowds like he’s never seen. He matches ambitions with Michael Keaton’s rival showman who wants to exploit Dumbo for his full wealth-generating potential. The message about the dehumanizing effects of capitalism is clear and welcome, though there could have been more room to explore a more complicated take on that theme. But ultimately, you can get away with a few minor disappointments if the main attraction is undeniably flying high.

Dumbo is Recommended If You Like: The original Dumbo, Cute animal videos, Batman Returns, A cameo from Michael Buffer (the “Let’s get ready to rumble!” guy)

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Feathers

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