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Dumbo reviews suggest live-action remakes don’t always fly

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Dumbo
The reviews suggest remaking classic animated films using real-life actors and computer-generated characters is far from a sure thing.

DUMBO, a live-action remake of Walt Disney Co.’s 1941 animated classic, hit theaters Friday, but many reviewers declared the film a snoozer even before it opened.

The picture, about a lovable elephant whose oversize ears allow him to fly, is “abysmally scripted and hamily acted,” according to the Globe and Mail. It’s “ostentatious and overworked,” said Time magazine. “Painfully de-tusked,” the Guardian offered. Overall, just 54% of critics recommended the film, according to Rotten Tomatoes.

The reviews suggest remaking classic animated films using real-life actors and computer-generated characters is far from a sure thing. Some have done spectacularly well, such as 2017’s Beauty and the Beast, which took in $1.26 billion worldwide. Christopher Robin brought in a disappointing $198 million last year. Three more are due out soon: Aladdin in May, The Lion King in July, and Mulan in March 2020.

Disney didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Dumbo had an underwhelming liftoff at the North American box office. The live-action remake debuted with $45 million from 4,259 North American theaters, below expectations heading into the weekend.

While that was easily enough to top the domestic box office, it marked the lowest start among the studio’s recent live-action remakes of Disney classics. To compare, 2017’s Beauty and the Beast debuted with $174 million, 2016’s The Jungle Book opened with $103 million, and 2015’s Cinderella launched with $67 million.




Heading into the weekend, Dumbo was expected to surpass $50 million in its first three days of release. Part of the reason for the softer opening is likely because the original Dumbo cartoon came out 80 years ago, making the lovable elephant seem slightly less relevant than newer classics like Beauty and the Beast and The Jungle Book, which both became huge successes for the studio.

Dumbo carries a $170-million production budget. The high-flying elephant will have to resonate overseas should Dumbo not pick up steam at the domestic box office. The movie launched in most international territories this weekend, amassing $71 million from foreign markets for a global start of $116 million.

Not all reviewers were down on Dumbo, which was directed by Tim Burton, a stylist whose work includes Edward Scissorhands. The Atlantic and Vulture both praised the director’s take on the film, particularly the flight scenes.

Mr. Burton gets credit in part for inspiring Disney’s recent live-action remakes. His 2010 Alice in Wonderland, a reimagining of the 1951 classic, grossed more than $1 billion worldwide.

There are many reasons for Disney to pursue the remake strategy, besides just box-office performance. The Burbank, California-based entertainment giant needs to keep characters such as Cinderella and Snow White fresh in children minds’ because of the roles they play in the company’s theme parks and merchandising business. — Bloomberg/Reuters

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