Director: Tim Burton Writer: Ehren Kruger Music: Danny Elfman Production Design: Richard Heinrichs
Dumbo may be remembered by film historians as the film that was released during the takeover of 21st Century Fox. Itself a movie about corporate buyers taking over a struggling enterprise, the beautifully romanticized film flopped at the box-office after costing a breathtaking $170 Million Dollars, or $12 Million in 1919 money, a century ago when the film takes place. It’s far too easy to make comparisons but the movie isn’t specific enough in its criticism to draw a strong parallel. V.A. Vandermere well-played by Michael Keaton is much more P.T. Barnum than he is Walt Disney.
Other Tim Burton regulars like Danny DeVito and Eva Green do some really solid work elevating two dimensional characters in a movie that might otherwise be lifeless. Green in particular has the best character, a French Trapeze artist named Colette. Colette and Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell, returning to Disney duty after Saving Mr. Banks) both elegantly under play their romance in an otherwise unsubtle film. As cold and calculating as the film might’ve been made, its values and Disney-friendly themes are in the right place. There’s action without much violence (an implied death happens off screen) and no coarse language. Lack of detail in the verbage of the time or out of place sound effects even make the film more interesting. Tim Burton mixes his Goth tinge with Art Deco in sets that are beautifully realized by Academy Award Winner and regular collaborator Rick Heinrichs (A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Last Jedi, Sleepy Hollow). It is the best Production Design of the year and it’s nice to see a film that actually utilizes it’s corporate backed budget.
The movie is almost like a time capsule, it’s very uncool and there are no attempts to appease millennial crowd which might’ve been why it wasn’t very well received. The movie brings in a lot of different plots that move along well and end satisfyingly but never crossover. Everyone’s motivation in the film, is basically their work. One exception is Holt, an amputee equestrian war veteran who wants to remain a hero in his children’s eyes, but doesn’t pay attention to how discouraging his pragmatic attitude might be to them. Much in the way most dads are, he is workmanlike, present, yet not always in on the picture. Despite being the ostensible lead, Holt doesn’t much meaningfully interact with Dumbo, his eyes are on his children. He needs others like Colette to guide him. The adults see a corporate showpiece and the children see magic.
The CGI that brings Dumbo to life isn’t as perfect as The Jungle Book, but details like the wrinkles in Dumbo’s eyes and skin are lifelike, and the weightlessness of CGI works in his favour. He is as Film Critic Katie Rife puts it: weapons-grade cute. It’s admirable that since the movie Noah, studios have opened themselves up to Computer Generation rather than training animals which I honestly find limiting in imagination. The only live animals in the film according to Danny DeVito are some dogs and a snake. The children are forgettable sketches drawn out of Jurassic Park‘s Lex and Tim. The little girl who my mother remarked “is so pretty and looks so much like Thandie Newton!” is her real-life daughter. She is positioned as the centre of the film that kids will relate to.
Dumbo is a remake of the 1941 film based on some lost source material. A good choice for a live action remake and sadly likely the most inspired of Disney’s this year (Aladdin, The Lion King, Maleficent II-ish and Lady & the Tramp are all on deck by less-talented or experienced directors). The movie can be regarded as slow, and it’s very conformist despite the message of standing out and realizing what makes you different. A tale made by Disney several times most recently in The Greatest Showman, and The Odd Life of Timothy Green. The difference now is Disney has a complete chokehold on the industry. All in all, coming in with low expectations (muted reviews, my dad slept through it), I had a good time with Dumbo and I’d place it a distant second behind Cinderella in the realm of Disney remakes. Considering Tim Burton is a bit regarded as being past his prime, giving us a beautiful looking film, with good performances and a surprisingly good Danny Elfman score, that can get you weepy, quality-wise this is as good of a film as Disney could hoped for.
Rating: B- / Continuum: -3, -2, -1, 0, +1, +2, +3
My mother remarked how easy it is to watch and that she could picture watching it with her grand kids.