The live-action remake of Beauty and the Beast was cute. The Jungle Book was disappointing (and it friggin’ had Bill Murray!). This is the next Disney money grab, remaking the animated 1941 film.
Seeing this was a Tim Burton movie was worrisome. He always makes such beautiful films to look at, but they’re usually a narrative mess.
The original tale deals with bullying, accepting your physical differences, parent-children relationships. Burton made this more of a father’s redemption tale, with a flying elephant as the side show and not the main attraction.
Holt Farrier is that dad, and he’s played by Colin Farrell, employing yet another accent that will make you cringe a bit [can somebody please just cast him in a role where he can use his own voice?].
Farrier has returned from World War I in France. He’s missing an arm, and it turns out, missing his wife. He’s informed that she died from the influenza, and his kids are a bit depressed about it all. Apparently, the couple did a cowboy act involving horses. Circus ringleader Max Medici (a fun Danny DeVito) has sold off the horses since the circus is seeing tough times (side note: a lot of movies seem to deal with struggling circuses and the interesting rag-tag group of carnies that run them).
Once they find out Jumbo Jr, now named Dumbo, can fly — they start to make their money; and come to the attention of the evil V.A. Vandevere, played a bit too over-the-top by Michael Keaton [fun fact: Tim Burton is reuniting his Batman and Penguin from Batman Returns].
Vandevere makes Medici (DeVito) an offer he can’t refuse (that thankfully, didn’t end up with a horse head in his bed). That has them joining up for a big show at his new theme park called Dreamland (Disneyland?). That means they can bring in another evil character — the rich banker J. Griffin Remington (Alan Arkin). He’s only in a few scenes and as much as I loved hearing him say things like “This pachyderm better fly” and “Let me buy you a hotdog,” it felt like a wasted role.
Eva Green (Casino Royale, and Burton’s underrated Dark Shadows) plays Colette, a French trapeze artist and girlfriend to Vandevere. For some reason, she starts out really evil, but turns out to be nice. The Medici character had a similar problem. He seemed to lack sympathy for Farrier and his plight, and didn’t give a rip about the elephants or other animals in his circus. Yet once the audience is supposed to hate Vandevere, Medici becomes the nice guy that wants to secure jobs for his performers.
One of the surprising things was how this movie failed to move me. I cry easily at what’s on screen, and Dumbo has a few scenes that are close to Bambi on the sadness meter. This film felt lifeless. It’s like eating cotton candy and goodies you bought at the circus, but all empty calories that just give you an upset tummy later.
Sure, there were stunning visuals. Production designer Rick Heinrichs and costumes by Colleen Atwood were terrific. There was a profound score by frequent Burton collaborator Danny Elfman (Oingo Boingo). But I’m not just after great visuals and lovely set pieces. A story like this…should give you a sense of wonder.
It gets bonus points for a great cameo by boxing announcer Michael Buffer who bellows, “Let’s get ready for Dumbooo!”
2 ½ stars out of 5.