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04 Apr 2019

A Floppy Flop: Tim Burton's Remake of 'Dumbo' Is an Uninspired Debacle

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Danny DeVito, Nico Parker and Colin Farrell in Dumbo. Danny DeVito, Nico Parker and Colin Farrell in Dumbo.

The decline of Tim Burton continues with Dumbo, his remake of the classic animated movie that amounts to a big zero—for kids and adults alike.

The original Dumbo clocked in at just a little more than an hour, while this one lasts for nearly two hours … and it feels like about 40. Yes, the running time has been padded, but not with anything beneficial. A bunch of unnecessary subplots and added characters take away time from the title character, an admittedly cute CGI achievement.

There are no talking animals in this movie, so remove Timothy the mouse, the singing crows, and the lullaby from the mama elephant off your list of expectations. The mouse (who makes a brief appearance, in a cage and wearing a hat) is replaced by the requisite precocious children, one of them played by Thandie Newton’s daughter. Sorry Thandie Newton’s daughter, but you can’t act, and you should either improve or consider another profession that requires you not to act.

Colin Farrell appears as Holt, the precocious children’s dad, back from World War I with one arm; his wife died of the flu while traveling with the circus. The circus is led by Max Medici (a blustery Danny DeVito), who has purchased a cheap, pregnant elephant. He wants Holt to be the keeper of his elephants, a demotion from his previous gig as a circus cowboy. Farrell, like most of the humans in this movie, seems lost.

V.A. Vandevere (played by Michael Keaton) is the villain of the film; he purchases Dumbo and plans to make him a main attraction at his Dreamland, which has a strong resemblance to Disneyland. So, in a way, Vandevere is modeled after Walt Disney, and is portrayed as an evil megalomaniac. Yes, Burton gets away with indirectly portraying Walt Disney as a greedy monster. I’m not saying this is inaccurate, but it’s a little odd to see in an actual Disney movie.

As for Keaton, he’s at his sneering worst in his movie, as if he was just put in front of the camera and told to act persnickety. It’s a shame, because seeing the man who was Batman in a movie by the guy who directed Batman could have been fun. Alas, it is not.

In the original, Dumbo flew in only a couple of scenes, for just a few seconds. Here, he has multiple flying scenes, which lessens the magic of the moments. Regrettably, the scene in the original in which Dumbo gets wasted and sees pink elephants is replaced by a lame bubble show—a dull homage to the original.

As much as I liked the original, I’ve always taken issue with the notion that anybody would give Dumbo a bunch of shit for having big ears. All elephants have big ears, do they not? The premise worked in a one-hour cartoon for kids, but it falls flat in a big-budget movie with real people walking around. The morality lesson at the core just doesn’t ring true. It feels corny.

Burton used to churn out one classic after another. However, his last great movie was 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and his career was severely tainted by his other Disney live-action reboot, Alice in Wonderland. Dumbo is actually worse than that Alice mess—proof that Burton needs to get far away from the mouse and closer to the weirdos who inspired the first half of his career. Jesus, make another Pee Wee movie before you deface any further Disney properties.

Dumbo is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

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