STARRING: COLIN FARRELL; DANNY DEVITO; MICHAEL KEATON; EVA GREEN
DIRECTED BY: TIM BURTON
AMovieGuy.com's RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
With Disney going through past animated classics, retelling them in live-action form, it's hard to not see these revisions as cash grabs for pennies, especially when it comes to the moneybags Mousketeer media conglomerate. Now, Disney owns all of Fox Entertainment, recently removing thousands of jobs, and I'm not sure if this was intentional, but stopping the big entertainment company from taking out the little guy is the hidden message in this new version of Dumbo. Although that message may confuse audience members, if you're aware of the irony, but Tim Burton still finds a way to bring his flare for the fantastic into the tale of that lovable flying elephant. Dumbo is filled with a lively cast of actors, a grand scale of circus magic, and the adorable big lobed title character, whose puppy dog eyes will make you instantly fall in love with him. The result? I'm in the minority of critics, but I found Dumbo to be a delightful family film.
The new plot is stretched tightly from Disney's 1941 original work, which clocked in at a slim 64-minutes, but there's enough originality that still captures our charm this time around. It starts in 1919, Max Medici (Danny DeVito) hustles his traveling Medici Brothers Circus from town to town, filled with classic acts of clowns, strongmen, and magicians. Bronco rider Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) returns from WWI, now missing his left arm, his wife passed away, and children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) hoping to be a happy family again. That's pretty tough to do when the circus can barely make ends meet. That is, until circus elephant Jumbo gives birth to the big eared Jumbo Jr. who, with the help of a feather, and friendly support from the two kids, discovers his ability to fly. Little Jumbo...or Dumbo becomes the biggest show in town.
The phenomenal flying elephant act catches the eye of entertainment tycoon V. A. Vandevere, played by Michael Keaton, who sports a fantastically terrible toupee, a devilish grin, and a suit fit for a villainous snake oil salesman. He's a cleaner cut Beetlejuice. Along for the ride is trapeze artist Collette (Eva Green), aiding Dumbo to be the next main attraction at Vandevere's gaudy amusement park Dreamland. The road to success is heart wrenching, as Dumbo must suffer through the pain of splitting from his mother, and eventually getting over his own fears of his big eared appearance. Vandevere wants the elephant to himself, attempting to break up the circus family, while taking poor Dumbo away for his own riches.
Obviously, this version of Dumbo cannot hold a candle to the original (1941), but you cannot begin to analyze this new version without understanding the career stylings of Tim Burton. The Edward Scissorhands director has had his share of massive hits, especially at the box-office, but has also frustrated critics, many longing for him to recapture the magic of his past works. With Dumbo, he makes a film that feels conventional for his standards, but if you step back, it looks like Burton's greatest hits of cinema. The cast ranges from those that worked with him in the beginning (Keaton, Alan Arkin with a brief role, and Danny DeVito, all actors privy to Burton's style) and actors of today (Eva Green- his current muse and Farrell), each one looking as if they were created specifically for a Burton film. The screen is often bursting with colors, shadowed by the who's who of Burton performers, standing against large scale sets, perfectly lit in the vision that Burton provides.
In nearly all of his work, such as Batman Returns, Big Fish, or even recently Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Burton gravitates to stories about outcasts, those who are different in their own unique way, looking for a family to love them, which is why Dumbo is a perfect fit for the director. If you are wondering why the screenplay by Ehren Kruger feels lacking in depth to any of the human characters, that's because they are not the show. The reason you go is for the elaborate sets, dancing pink elephant bubbles, fantastic costume design from Colleen Atwood, along with the extremely cool CGI flying moments that children will surely get a kick out of.
The final result, is a movie that is delightful for fans to enjoy. It's not without a few eye rolling moments (Announcer Michael Buffer makes an appearance, and it's as awful as you might expect), Dumbo dolls are sold as obvious Disney product placement, those moments rub anyone the wrong way. Yet still, it may be middle of the pack Tim Burton, but at this point he will always be that director, trying to recapture his childlike wonderment. We should be appreciative that we still have an artists trying to do these sort of films. Just like Dumbo, he's a an entertainer, worthy of being the main attraction.
WRITTEN BY: Leo Brady