5 reasons why Disney's live-action 'Dumbo' failed at the box office

Walt Disney StudiosDumbo and his mother are the heart of the film.
  • Dumbo” is a live-action remake of the 1941 animated classic.
  • The movie has made $US119 million since opening Friday.
  • With a budget of $US170 million, the film has fallen short of expectations.
  • The dark story and poor reviews may have contributed to its low box office numbers.
  • Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more great stories.

Disney’s “Dumbo” fell short in its debut at the box office.

The live-action reimagining from director Tim Burton opened to an estimated $US45 million domestically over the weekend, less than the $US50 million to $US58 million much of the industry predicted it would bring in. With another $US71 million overseas, the roughly $US119 million weekend total didn’t meet the $US170 million budget the movie had (not including marketing) to bring the CGI baby elephant to life.

The movie’s dark tone and poor reviews may have contributed to its soft opening, but Disney isn’t concerned yet.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Disney distribution chief Cathleen Taff said,”We’re very encouraged. We are the middle of rolling spring breaks and we think ‘Dumbo’ is a good option for families.”

Here’s what went wrong with “Dumbo’s” debut.


1. The original movie is nearly 80 years old.

DisneyThe animated ‘Dumbo’ came out in 1941.

Disney is capitalising on the nostalgia of their fanbase with more than 20 live-action movies in the works. These fans are attached to the movies they grew up with so they are often excited to see the classics with a new twist.

But unlike the upcoming “Aladdin” and “The Lion King,” which were originally released in the ’90s, the animated “Dumbo” was released in 1941. Children who grew up with the story of “Dumbo” would be more than 78 years old so there is little to no attachment for young fans now.


2. The dark story and somber appearance may not have broad appeal.

DisneyDumbo is painted in clown makeup.

Burton’s films have a dark aesthetic and Dumbo is no different. Certain scenes may be spooky for young children so parents may not want to take their kids to see it.

The story is also not a joyful one. Dumbo is bullied by humans for his big ears and the circus animals are treated poorly. The movie deals with animal abuse, war, and death. Some of the material may be too heavy for children.


3. Poor reviews may have swayed potential viewers.

Walt Disney StudiosDumbo and his mum are separated.

“Dumbo” is currently sitting at a 49% on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics of the movie say the film lacks heart and is weighed down by additions to the plot, including an added focus on the humans in the movie.

If parents weren’t sure about taking their kids to the film, the rotten rating could keep them at home.


4. The marketing doesn’t capture the film’s magic.

Walt Disney StudiosDumbo gets a bath.

For viewers unfamiliar with the classic story, the marketing didn’t help explain what the story of Dumbo was. Though the trailers showed the baby elephant whose big ears gave him the ability to fly, they didn’t explain the new characters who fans of the original won’t recognise or what new plot points would be. The film’s marketing was unable to fully feature the magic of the flying pachyderm.


5. With the start of spring, people might have made time for the outdoors.

Walt Disney StudiosDumbo learns how to control his flying.

The end of March marks the beginning of spring and with warmer weather spreading across the country, families may be trying to enjoy the outdoors more. The weekend wasn’t a particularly special one to drop a movie. Disney may find more success with “Dumbo” come Easter weekend.

OK, but should I still watch it?

“Dumbo” is a story about family for both the baby elephant and his human caretakers. Despite the film’s criticisms, the cute elephant is vibrant and adorable and he makes the film enjoyable to watch.

As INSIDER’s Callie Ahlgrim wrote, “If you’ve seen the trailer then you know this already, but it bears repeating: That elephant is extremely cute. The filmmakers nailed Dumbo’s animation, from his unabashed clumsiness to the adorable bewilderment on his little face any time someone is mean to him. … The urge to protect Dumbo is the emotional anchor throughout the film.”

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