More than anything it’s a film of missed opportunity, especially when the pink elephant scene is as bloody brilliant as it is
Tim Burton has survived for some time on his early film making legacy. There’s a general regard that his productions are still as kooky, surreal, and imaginative as they once were, and though still an accomplished film maker, there is certainly an edge missing from the productions he has worked on recently. So when he is held down and restrained in the way Disney have contracted him, even less of his spark seeps out than normal.
This restrictions on his work have clearly left the film in a more generic state, offering less intrigue and more normality in a story that any reboot would need to almost completely overhaul. The artistic merit of particular sequences has to be questioned, and the constant usage of CGI throughout becomes a painful reminder of what big budget cinema is becoming.
Returning home to find his wife has passed, Holt (Colin Farrell) can no longer carry out his act with the Medici Brothers Circus after having his arm amputated from a war injury. Left to care for the elephants with his two children, Holt is tasked with bringing up the newborn to be the circus’ newest attraction. However, the baby is born with enormous ears, and owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) considers the calf, Dumbo, an eyesore. That is until Holt’s children discover Dumbo has the incredible ability of self-flight.
Throughout the first act, the backdrop, a constant creation of CGI carnival, is marred by its lack of adventure. There’s a studio feel to a section of the film that was crying out for a wild open space to play host to the Medici Brother’s Circus, but instead runs with a particularly theatre-like staging and an awful lack of individuality and excitement. None of what commands the opening section of the story thematically, is ramped up in the way it needed to be to properly promote Dumbo’s underlying themes.
This over usage of CGI becomes less clear as the story expands to Dreamland, and the production design becomes far more involving and entertaining in the larger scale scenes. The sense of wonder a story like Dumbo possesses is far more evident once Michael Keaton’s V.A. Vandervere enters the film, and that is partially driven by his villainous aim towards a final goal, something the rest of the cast of characters very much lack. Yet all this really does is prove how poorly constructed the time spent at the Medici circus actually was.
Lifted by some truly magical moments, Dumbo isn’t entirely void of Burton’s creativity and Disney’s long standing ability to draw in crowds with its darkly natured family features. The recreation of the scene involving the pink elephants is wild and brilliant, and for a fleeting moment holds strong exactly what the entire film should have been. Danny DeVito is Danny DeVito; nothing will stop that. And Michael Keaton’s return to power continues to amaze as he commands all that he works on. Dumbo is a lopsided production that never settles on exactly what it wants to do with its existence.
It isn’t classic Tim Burton, but was that expected? Not from a film so rooted in the heart of Disney. It ultimately is a mish-mash of ideas and styles that never settles, but more than anything it’s a film of missed opportunity, especially when the pink elephant scene is as bloody brilliant as it is.
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