Friday, March 29, 2019

Tim Burton's Dumbo

Love him or hate him, words you don't usually hear to describe filmmaker Tim Burton are the exact same adjectives which are impossible not to use in talking about the latest Disney live-action remake of one of their animated classics. Burton has delivered a number of memorable films, and when he has failed he has often failed in spectacular fashion. Dumbo isn't bad, but it's bland, safe, unoffensive in the extreme, and utterly forgettable. Don't get me wrong, Dumbo is an okay way to while away a lazy afternoon. The CGI of the title character is impressive, and the performances from the human cast are more than adequate. There's just not much Disney magic this time around. And since Dumbo never talks, he comes off more of a trick dog than a fully fleshed-out character.

Making the choice that animals don't talk, to humans or each other, necessitates a rather large change from the original animated film. In the new version, Dumbo's path from freak to star attraction comes at the assistance of two human children (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins) and their father (Colin Farrell), recently returned from WWI to the travelling circus run by Max Medici (Danny DeVito).

As in the original, Dumbo is separated from his mother who doesn't take kindly to those making fun of her son's large ears. Afterwards, Dumbo will find fame by putting his ears (with the help of feathers) to work by soaring around the big top. Along the way, Medici's star attraction will the attention of amusement park entrepreneur V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) and his villainous henchmen who step-in to offer some conflict in the second-half of the movie. While you can certainly view Vandevere and his park as an evil Walt Disney, there's little evidence of the film being smart or sly enough to knowingly make such a choice. Eva Green offers a pleasant distraction as Vandevere's star and Alan Arkin lives things up as one of the few adults not taking the proceedings too seriously.

Dumbo isn't without its moments. Burton and screenwriters find a way to work in the Elephants on Parade segment and, CGI or not, it is still fun to see an elephant fly. That said, the script is more than a little uneven getting bogged down at times with some of the human storylines while also racing through others (such as the connection between Dumbo and the other members of Medici's circus). And don't even get me started on the bizarre coincidences and pure luck that go into the film's conclusion. And whether its the CGI, the focus on the emotions of the children rather than that of the elephant, or something else completely, the film lacks the emotion of the (far shorter) original animated film.

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