VISUAL EXTRAORDINAIRE TIM BURTON MIXES ART DECO, THE GREAT GATSBY AND THE GREATEST SHOWMAN TO PROVE THAT A LIVE ACTION VERSION OF “DUMBO” CAN FLY JUST AS HIGH AS THE CHARACTER HIMSELF
If you think back to 1994 Disney started their animation to live action conversion trend with Jason Scott Lee in Stephen Sommer’s (“The Mummy”) adventure “The Jungle Book”. Then returned in 1996 with Jeff Daniels and Glenn Close in “101 Dalmatians”. Disney hadn’t really cornered the market on their live action adaptations until 2010 when the man who really kicked it off for them was legendary visual filmmaker Tim Burton, whose live action “Alice in Wonderland” made a ridiculous take of over $1 billion dollars. While most of the films have stayed true to the original animated source material. Disney looks to Tim Burton once again to fly “Dumbo” into another billion dollar payday for the studio. “Dumbo” which is based on the beloved 1941 animated classic, is a Tim Burton film from first frame to the last and a much better film than the dreary mess that “Alice In Wonderland” was.
The success of “Alice In Wonderland” gave Disney the green light for additional live action conversions over the last nine years, including “Beauty and the Beast”, “The Jungle Book” and two of the best: “Maleficent” and “Cinderella”. Whether “Dumbo” is a box office giant as “Alice” or a mediocre take-in as “Cinderella”, it hasn’t stopped Disney to release three more live action adaptations this year (“Aladdin”, “The Lion King” and “Maleficent 2”) and six others in the near future.
Tim Burton’s PG-rated, 112-minute version of “Dumbo” is brimming with Burton’s trademarked unique and eye-popping visual style. More complex and darker than it’s original animated tale, which was simplistic and had a running time of just 64 minutes. Burton and “Transformers” screenwriter Ehren Kruger, packs the story with a plethora of new characters, complexities, and a few old-fashioned touches.
“Dumbo” opens in 1919, with a traveling circus operated by one Max Medici (Danny DeVito) who is experiencing hard times (A recurring theme with films about the circus). Colin Farrell is the former horseback riding circus sensation Holt Farrier, who returns from World War I with a chestfull of medals and an amputated right arm. That’s not all of the problems Holt faces as his beloved wife had died while he was fighting overseas, so now life consists of Holt and his super-smart daughter Milly (Nico Parker), who dreams of becoming a scientist and changing the world, and his sweet hearted son Joe (Finley Hobbins).
Max takes pity on Holt and gives him a job tending to the elephants, including a recent purchase, who is about to give birth. Milly and Joe instantly bond with the baby elephant and together they discover that if “Dumbo” flaps his ears, he can fly!Word of the sensational flying elephant spreads across the land quickly and attracts the interest of the “I don’t think I trust this guy” persona, a flamboyant entertainment entrepreneur named V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton). Vandevere strikes a deal with Max, and arranges to bring the entire troupe to his newest, state of the art entertainment spectacle called Dreamland with “Dumbo” as the star attraction. Eva Green who has become a Burton favorite (“Dark Shadows” and “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children”) plays the French aerial artist Colette, who is to be teamed with “Dumbo”. Academy Award winner Alan Arkin has an extended cameo as a banker who may or may not pump more money into Dreamland.
As it turns out Burton, was an inspired and perfect choice to helm the film, grounding the seventy-eight year old animated film by turning it into a period piece in post WWI America. Flushing the camera with his unique color palate of Art Deco, the scope and look of “The Great Gatsby” and “The Greatest Showman”.
“Dumbo” is aided by amazing CGI both in it’s vast set design and most importantly, the beloved big eared elephant, who looks uncannily real. The expressive CGI animal is beautifully rendered and a joy to watch. Your heart will break at the many tragedies that befall him. You will find yourself tearing up when he’s separated from his mom and then you will be cheering as he takes flight with his many triumphs. He really does look real and has the warmest and most lovable eyes in CGI history.
Sharing the screen with “Dumbo” is the spot on cast, as one of my favorite actors Colin Farrell adopts a Kentucky accent in a heart felt and heroic role. Nico Parker who stars as Milly Holt, radiates the screen who uncannily resembles her mother Thandie Newton (“WestWorld”) not only physically, but also in her acting gravitas. Disney has always had great skills in casting child actors.
Burton’s three time leading man Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito reunited with Burton for the first time in twenty seven years after “Batman Returns”. DeVito hasn’t been this great in years and it’s such a treasure to see him back on the big screen, even though his performance goes to over the top at times. Keaton’s role would have gone to Tim Burton favorite Johnny Depp, if Depp wasn’t so knee deep in personal problems. The difference between Keaton and Depp is that Keaton, knows when to dial it down and reveal his human side. Eva Green also does well in what’s a relatively straight-laced role for her as the aerialist who warms to both “Dumbo”, Farrell and his family.
Tim Burton regulars, composer Danny Elfman beautifully scores the film and stunning cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel is captured in painting like shots. Burton takes clear delight in reimagining “Dumbo” in a fresh way by not solely telling the tale from “Dumbo’s” perspective but also the people around him. I personally have never seen the 1941 animated film (I know shame on me), but I know the somewhat infamous pink elephant scene, that gets re-imagined as if going on a psychedelic acid trip.
In classic Burton structure, a moment of happiness is marked by tragedy. Burton does what he does best in “Dumbo”, as he shines a light on society’s outcasts, how to stand up for those who are powerless and displaying messages of animal rights and taking a stand against corporate greed. Like the film itself, the climax goes for huge scale spectacle. Burton turns a simple rescue mission into violent confrontations and a raging inferno. Burton likes to roll around in his visual style and his gifts as a filmmaker are on full display. If “Dumbo” doesn’t find it’s way to the Oscars for it’s incredible technical achievements including visual effects, costume and set design then I worry.
“Dumbo” is easily Burton’s best film in awhile. I was never bored or never found myself detached from the film. I love this film as Tim Burton, gives us an affecting re-telling of a Disney classic. Filled with with plenty of tear-jerker moments, action sequences, drama and amazing visuals that can only be experienced on the biggest theater screen you can find.
GRADE: ★★★★★ (5 out of 5)