01st Apr2019

‘Dumbo’ Review

by Jak-Luke Sharp

Stars: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Roshan Seth, Lars Eidinger, Deobia Oparei, Joseph Gatt, Miguel Muñoz Segura | Written by Ehren Kruger | Directed by Tim Burton


Dumbo is the live-action remake of the much beloved 1941 Walt Disney film of the same name. This updated 2019 rendition is directed by famed auteur Tim Burton. Who, somewhat ironically, first established that this live-action trend by Disney could be a colossal success with his 2010 remake of Alice in Wonderland. That resulted in a monstrous ride at the box office grossing over a billion dollars. Burton progressed onto his usual mediocre cruise control with multiple box office flops and critical messes in the likes of Dark Shadows, Frankenweenie, Big Eyes and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. All undoubtedly pieces of Burton’s identifiable aesthetic but lacking the emotional flair he once had in his 80s and 90s heyday. Disney pressed on with their live-action series in Cinderella, The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast. All storming the worldwide box office billion dollar club and with Guy Ritchie’s Aladdin and Jon Favreau’s The Lion King just around the corner almost guaranteed to replicate the success it would seem that the same result for Dumbo would be conclusive for critical and financial success and with the reuniting of Burton a guaranteed recipe for victory the success would undeniable and untouchable right? Not this time around.

The Burton-esque aesthetic is here in the production design and character developments, albeit never at the same iconic standard as we’ve witnessed before. As his latest is a hollow lifeless bore with a disgusting overabundant amount of CGI that should be a criminal offence in the court of cinema. The opening act, in particular, is a complete lacklustre, lifeless disaster and a testament that defines the picture as a whole. It has no scope, no life and no heart. The CGI here is the heaviest and as the film unfolds it becomes quite the quiz to understand why? It inhabits no set pieces, no scope and no sequences that demand so much manipulation and the result being that nothing feels organic or realistic, therefore the resonation of character i.e. Dumbo itself and the emotional gravitas of the situation that unfolds counts for nothing in the eyes of the audience. It an implication that snowballs throughout the picture and severely dampens the climax and any moment of tension in the final act. Even the score by famed muse of Burton – Danny Elfman – fails to insert any life into the images. The gothic intensity is flat, and the engulfing nature of the music doesn’t move the audience to any degree. Even when coupled with the film’s most emotionally compelling scenes, it befalls flavourless provocation.

All the backgrounds are masses of blue screen and it’s the same issues that have arisen in much of Burton’s recent work in the turn of the decade. This dependency on utilising CGI to craft his aesthetic is relied on to an abhorrent and deeply misunderstood extend. Yes, the realisation of such will be a closer image to what Burton intended but that’s not what made Burton the genius he was throughout the 1990s. It was the rough gothic haunting production design and exclusively practical work that had a purpose and a life. That is nowhere to be found in this extravagantly senile picture. The articulation of Dumbo is also strikingly sub-par and incredibly poor creation on behalf of the filmmakers. The clarity and striking updated designs in the likes of what we’ve seen in recent efforts in The Jungle Book are not to be seen here whatsoever. Instead, we’re met with the meddling of old and the stagnant. If you’ve ever been to a famous landmark anywhere in the world, you’ll usually find artists who perform caricatures of the public. This is that. No disrespect to those artists but the intended effect to create a loveable but also real walking and breathing animal is an absolute unequivocal disaster. There’s no emotion in the character, no life behind the eyes which are never a point to pray on by Burton throughout the picture for emotional manipulation. An absurd mistake for a film and a studio, for that matter, that wholeheartedly depends on emotional resonation and when that fails you can pretty much forget about the film working at all. The issue with the film and Burton’s work is that nothing has its individual heartbeat or purpose. It just blends into the uncanny valley and becomes in purposeful. The exact antithesis of intended creation and a sad but eye-opening insight to the fall of an incredible auteur.

It’s a drastically rushed picture that doesn’t want to hold and pause for one dear moment to examine itself or the emotional nourishment that this story undeniably has in the one hundred- and twenty-minutes running time. Yet, fails to coax any and all compelling gravitas from the material throughout. The blame here lies with the writing from sole writer Ehren Kruger, who struggles as the lone wolf. The structure is bloated here and hurried there in places and nothing evolves naturally for the audience to intake. Unfortunately, it is painfully all over the place and the result is just a whirlwind of clustering material that blurs in an overly underwhelming effect. The characters are astonishingly underwritten and drastically one note in terms of depth and layers. It’s actually so poor, in fact, that the lines between good and evil, of which is a stereotypical staple of Disney, are blurred and fail to showcase consequences of its villains. Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito’s characters V. A. Vandevere and Max Medici in particularly have no real clear distinction between pure evil and generous good. One would attest that it may be the film’s intent and prerogative to insinuate such but if so, it’s poorly implemented and never clear enough. Keaton and DeVito are here physically in full force, but the depth is drastically cut.

The character designs and aesthetic, as stated above, are wonderfully Burton but the layers and depth are just non-existent and with the muddled intents of either it doesn’t become clear who’s side their really on, nor do they ever face stiff consequences for their evil actions. Alan Arkin perhaps puts the most comatose performance of his career to date in Dumbo. Each and every small sequence he’s involved in you are given the incredibly clear distinction that he does not want to be involved, nor is interested in the material and when those end credits roll, you’re sadly aligned with him on that front. Thankfully there are positives in relation to performance. Eva Green brings a wonderful touch to proceedings in her elegant and slick performance as Colette Marchant but is severely underwritten. Nico Parker impresses as Milly Farrier in her feature film debut – the daughter of Thandie Newton puts forward perhaps the most captivating performance in a film that has three cast members nominated for an Academy Award with one winning. That is how much she shines in what can only be described as a disaster. Hopefully, Disney’s first and last disaster…. scratch that, Will Smith’s Genie awaits :(

Dumbo is in cinemas now.


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