EXPECTATIONS: Another live-action adaptation of a beloved Disney animated film, another 2-hour period of seeing Disney printing money in front of our faces.
In the past review for The Nutcracker and the Four Realms, this reviewer has written that we’ve had live-action film adaptations of beloved Walt Disney animated films and they all have variable critical reception from critics and audiences. While all of them have had their fans who credit the films for their fidelity to the adapted source material, many other people have criticized the film for exactly the same trait; so much to the point where some people have said that Disney is basically printing money for redoing beloved films.
It is hard to believe that with all the live-action Disney film adaptations we’ve gotten over the past decade, we are getting NOT one, NOT two, but three in 2019 alone. The first one we’re getting is from acclaimed director Tim Burton, an adaptation of the 1941 animated film, Dumbo.
It is quite easy for anyone to have thoughts of trepidation when one hears about a live-adaptation of Dumbo. Especially when one considers the increasingly mediocre output of Burton’s work (including the first live-action Disney adaptation Alice in Wonderland), screenwriter Ehren Kruger‘s overall middling script work as well as the running time being almost twice as long as the 61 minute original.
But with a talented cast of newcomers, respected thespians and long-awaited Burton collaborations with Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito and Alan Arkin, a beloved source material and a cute-as-a-button pachyderm in the titular role, it is hard to resist. Will we believe the elephant can fly?
Struggling circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) enlists a former star Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) and his two children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe Farrier (Finley Hobbins) to care for Dumbo (as itself), a baby elephant born with oversized ears. When the family discovers that the animal can fly, it soon becomes the main attraction; bringing in huge audiences and revitalizing the run-down circus.
The elephant’s magical ability also draws the attention V. A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) and aerial artist Colette Marchant (Eva Green), who swoop in to make the peculiar pachyderm a star for Vandevere’s circus in Dreamland until Holt and the kids realize that behind the shiny and wondrous exterior, Dreamland is full of dark secrets.
Does the film succeed as an adaptation as well as taking on its own path? Unfortunately, 2019’s Dumbo doesn’t work on any of those fronts. Much like the Disney live-action adaptation of Beauty and the Beast and the titular animal itself, Dumbo suffers from being bloated due to an extensive running time, superfluous characters (whom substitute for the 1941 film character, Timothy Q. Mouse poorly) and glacial pacing, and yet with all that money, with all those characters, with all that talent, it all still feels malnourished.
The actors try the best with what the characters they have, but it’s just not enough. Danny DeVito is his usual energetic self but he can do better; Colin Farrell is a bit lost with his stock fatherly role (not to mention his inconsistent work on his Kentucky accent); Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins are too wooden and make little impression with their roles; the talents of both Eva Green and Alan Arkin are wasted and Michael Keaton is entertainingly over-the-top but he feels like he’s come from a different film set.
Burton’s direction is slack in a way that shows competence in conjuring a viable product, but he lacks inspiration in making a film that has his unique touch, despite great contributions from Rick Heinrichs‘ production design and Colleen Atwood‘s period costumes.
For example, there is a scene set in the Dreamland theme park that revolves around a haunting and scary attraction that involves monstrous creatures. This scene had plenty of potential that could have used Burton’s penchant for Gothic sensibility and macabre humour (even with Danny Elfman‘s contribution to the musical score), but it just feels so sanitized and sterile to the point that the scene is emblematic of the entire film; being that it has no personality.
Certain scenes are redone (like a scene involving “pink elephants” and the Baby Mine sequence) from the original film and while credit should be given to the filmmakers for not copying the original, the film’s lack of focus in trying to balance the human characters and the titular role (due to Kruger’s sloppy screenplay) renders those scenes as disappointingly ineffective.
It is with a very heavy heart to say that Dumbo is another disappointment in a long line of disappointments that is the recent filmography of director Tim Burton. It feels like an unnecessary effort of making a live-action director’s cut of the original film. You will believe an elephant can fly, but you’ll forget about it as soon as the act is over.
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Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Roshan Seth, DeObia Oparei, Sharon Rooney, Phil Zimmerman, Douglas Reith, Joseph Gatt
Director: Tim Burton
Screenwriters: Ehren Kruger