'Dumbo' Box Office: Tim Burton's Pic Achieves Liftoff But Fails to Soar

Courtesy of Disney Enterprises

The live-action update of the classic 1941 animated film opened to a so-so $45 million, versus an expected $50 million-plus and a steady, if unspectacular, $71 million overseas.

The subdued opening of Tim Burton's Dumbo is a reminder that Disney's campaign to update its classic library of animated titles with live-action renderings is far from a foolproof bet.

Dumbo — loosely based on the classic 1941 animated film about an outcast baby elephant with aerodynamic ears — launched to an estimated $45 million in North America, versus an expected $50 million-plus. Overseas, it took flight with $71 million for a so-so global liftoff of $116 million, including a China debut of $10.7 million.

In today's times, almost any Hollywood studio would be relatively pleased with Dumbo's overall numbers. Disney, which dominates in market share, is in a different position.

"Great expectations are always placed on any movie the studio releases. Going back to the vaults has served the studio well, but each film must perform on its own merits and Dumbo, with its 80-year-old IP, may have had more of an uphill battle than some Disney remakes that are based on newer material and received better reviews, but the film should enjoy solid playability given its status as the sole new PG-rated family film in the marketplace," says box office analyst Paul Dergarabedian of Comscore.

In North America, Dumbo opened behind any other high-profile, live-action Disney updates. In March 2010, Burton's Alice in Wonderland started off with $116.1 million domestically, followed by Cinderella with $67.8 million in March 2015, The Jungle Book with $103.2 million in April 2016 and Beauty and the Beast with nearly $175 million in March 2017, not adjusted for inflation.

It did come in ahead of the live-action Pete's Dragon ($21.5 million), although that title was released in August, signaling that expectations weren't as high. It also didn't sport a big budget; Dumbo cost a hefty $170 million to produce before marketing.

"Oh man, they could teach a film course on why Dumbo didn't work. It was like Tim Burton was going through the (e)motions. It felt like an expensive, uninspired story told very blandly without Disney or Burton's signature magic," says box office analyst Jeff Bock with Exhibitor Relations. "What a missed opportunity. I doubt we'll see a Burton budget like this again."

Reviewers largely agreed with Bock, noting the movie's sometimes somber tone. Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito and Eva Green star in the film, which tells the story of a crumbling circus whose troubles are compounded when a baby elephant is declared a laughingstock because of the pachyderm's abnormally large ears. But when the troupe discovers the animal can fly, the circus makes a comeback. Enter a persuasive capitalist with money-hungry intentions.

Dumbo's Rotten Tomatoes score is currently 50 percent. Audiences were far more amenable, giving the film an A-CinemaScore.

One positive note: Dumbo marks Burton's best domestic opening since Alice. His last film, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, debuted to $29 million in September 2016 against a budget of $120 million before marketing.

The performance of Dumbo arguably puts added pressure on two other Disney live-action pics waiting in the wings: Guy Ritchie's Aladdin and Jon Favreau's The Lion King, both of which hit theaters this summer.

In terms of demos, Dumbo played like the usual kid-friendly pic. Families made up 54 percent of the opening-weekend audience, with children 11 and under repping 23 percent of all ticket buyers, the largest quadrant.

"We're very encouraged," says Disney distribution chief Cathleen Taff. "We are the middle of rolling spring breaks and we think Dumbo is a good option for families."