Whenever I see a movie with bad computer generated images, I'm saddened to think Alan Turing died so that these abominations could happen.
Happily, the CGI elephant in Tim Burton's new remake of Walt Disney's 1941 animated classic Dumbo manages to look both stylized and lifelike, and sports two charming blue eyes that win over a viewer easily. His enormous (even for a pachyderm) ears enable him to fly. After seeing what the special effects crew can do, it's disappointing real elephants can't manage the feat.
80 Cast: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Roshan Seth, Lars Eidinger
Director: Tim Burton
Rating: PG, for peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief mild language
Running Time: 1 hour, 52 minutes
In the classic Disney version of Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl's book, Dumbo's ability to master the sky wasn't revealed until the movie's final moments. This time around, screenwriter Ehren Kruger (The Ring) lets the elephant out of bag early, and that makes the new version as unwieldy as Dumbo is on land.
Because Dumbo takes to the sky prematurely, the storyline becomes curiously flat. Ironically, the 1941 movie was a little easier to buy into because most of the characters, with the notable exception of Dumbo himself, were talking animals. Dumbo might have been the creature the other circus critters mocked, but he still belonged in the stylized world of animation.
Burton's human cast is loaded with terrific performers, but he and Kruger still have trouble coming up with people as endearing as Timothy the Mouse or Dumbo's mom. Colin Farrell stars as a World War I vet named Holt Farrier who returns to the circus that used to employ him as a trick rider. The job is harder now because the flu has killed many of the other performers including Holt's wife, and combat took his arm.
Actually, the job is now impossible because the owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) has sold the horses to make ends meet. Holt is now stuck taking care of a sickly looking Asian elephant, but Max is excited because she's about to give birth.
Holt's kids Milly and Joe (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins) discover the odd-looking but adorable Dumbo can do more than trip on his ears, which attracts the attention of a well-financed but shady impresario named V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton). He can get backing for huge amusement parks but can't afford a hairpiece that looks like it is or was once living. Maybe that's why his relationship with a trapeze artist (Eva Green) seems curiously distant.
The first movie felt brisk in part because it was short. It only runs 64 minutes, and it focuses mostly on Dumbo's relationship with his loving mother, who can see things in him that others are too prejudiced to notice.
The new film is almost twice as long and seems even longer because the human interactions simply aren't that involving. Vandevere is such a transparent swindler that there's no surprise when his true colors emerge. Keaton's manic energy can only do so much.
Dumbo is still a cartoon character. It's as if Keaton and the rest of the cast have been shoehorned into his world and suffer because of it. Having Dumbo's mom serenading him with "Baby Mine" in the original film was heartbreaking because the tune was from her own heart. Having humans sing the same song as the moment is replicated in the new movie simply isn't as poignant.
It's almost as if Burton and Kruger were given a checklist by the studio for which moments or songs from the original movie to incorporate. If a moment seems awkward or baffling and doesn't fit the rest of the narrative, it's because it's a shout out to the original movie that makes no sense if you haven't seen it.
Burton's better movies like Frankenweenie and Edward Scissorhands achieve an entertaining balance of cute and creepy.
His darker sensibilities are muted here, and even though the movie is aimed for kids, they are missed. While the youngsters certainly don't need any unnecessary frights, grown-ups may find their watches more interesting than what's on screen.
Turing, who developed a test for what was flesh and what was mechanical, would probably be impressed with how his creation has made lifelike animals. Disney, however, achieved a lot more joy in less time and with a smaller crew. If only the new Dumbo had a little patience to go with his urge to soar.
MovieStyle on 03/29/2019
Print Headline: Dumbo