Suspension of disbelief is an important aspect of Disney live action movies. When watching a cartoon, the viewer automatically becomes open to almost any possibility, whereas with live action there’s an initial barrier the viewer must overcome.
Films like Alice In Wonderland overcome this by telling the viewer “Yes, this is reality, but everything magical happens in another world just beyond your own”, which allows the viewer to open their mind to the impossible.
For Dumbo, this hurdle isn’t overcome as easily. Initially we’re entered into a 1950’s era riddled with issues similar to our own post-war reality; life threatening diseases, men disfigured from the war, and financial difficulties.
Because of this, the viewer approaches the film with the sincerity of a post-war drama, and for a brief 30 minutes the movie is a confusing tale of a failing circus cursed by a deformed baby elephant.
Then the elephant starts flying.
This marks a huge tone shift for the movie, and it quickly becomes a more traditional Disney family movie.
Forgetting that Dumbo is based on the classic 1941 Disney cartoon, Dumbo’s flight feels disjointed and forced. From this point, the viewer has two options:
- Accept the suspension of disbelief and enjoy the family friendly experience.
- Be very confused by the remaining movie.
Because of this, I think many people are having mixed feelings about the overall experience, but the primary audience for Dumbo (families) will quickly fall in love with the adorable animal characters and its magical world.
I do think underneath the confusing tones, Dumbo has a strong storyline. It’s uplifting and fun; ultimately that’s all you want from a Disney movie. The acting here is awful, but luckily this is rarely an issue as it blends into the vibrant backdrop of the Tim Burton’s circus.
It’s probably not going to be 2019’s biggest family film, but I give Dumbo a strong 3 elephants out of a possible 5.