Dumbo, Elephants Never Forget, But Will Audience
Dumbo, the first remake of the live-action (ish) cartoon of three Disney cartoons that will mature in the next four months (Aladdin will come in May, The Lion King in June), can become a competitor. The director is Tim Burton, who began his career as an animator, and who regularly returns to the media for heart-touching handmade photos such as Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie. Recently, Burton was the filmmaker who was most directly responsible for the trend of this cartoon reclamation: his imagination in 2010 about Alice in Wonderland generated more than one billion dollars worldwide. Do you know someone of all ages who likes that film? Dumbo is better, but it’s a bar that can be cleaned by healthy elephants, doesn’t need unusual talent.
Burton, who was once the most outstanding major studio filmmaker, has long been a company employee. This efficient and obscure Dumbo can be directed by a number of Chris Columbuses or Brad Peytons or Jon Favreaus (who made The Jungle Book 2016 and the upcoming digital Lion King) – can become all project managers, and none of them have imagination the heat to produce Beetlejuice, especially Ed Wood. The obedient Burton we have here is the only Warner Brothers they hope to have at Batman Returns a generation ago, when the parents and burger chains served by millions and billions shouted about how the blockbuster sequel turned out to be very strange and curly and cruel, for a film they work very hard to sell to children.
Friends, Romans, trading partners: Breathe easily. Burton’s Dumbo is as safe as children – and just as sad, in the story of family seclusion and separation – as the original 64 minutes from 1941. Dumbo ’19 runs 50 minutes longer and displays a percent increase in the main talk role of 700 percent for humans, the decline of 100 percent of female peptalk-dispensing and pachyderms mice gossip, and the total elimination of race-caricature-as-singing-crows. The impressive sequence of pink elephants, which are hallucinated by small Dumbo after the clown sticks its water bowl, is here again imagined as the appearance of clean and non-drunk soap bubbles in the circus where Dumbo is a star attraction.
Ehren Kruger, screenwriter of the three moving Transformers sequels, has chosen to set his version of this story exactly a century in the past, in a very beautiful American Midwest that Burton made entirely on the music scene in England. Digital animals are more similar to sunrise and sunset screensaver-y, which gives this film a little color it has. Save for a number of practical sets, the only element that is not conjured through code is the players, featuring alumni Colin Farrell, Eva Green, and Batman Returns Danny DeVito and Michael Keaton, all four of them easy to watch even when reducing their more wild instincts and give a straight-arrow show.
Well, maybe not Keaton, using some weird vocal tics (and Lindsey Graham’s haircut) as V.A. Vandevere, a Walt Disney-like tycoon who appears in the middle of the film to lure Dumbo & Co. work for him at Dreamland, the destination amusement park that just opened. Alan Arkin is also here, as J. Griffin Remington, Dreamland’s main investor. (The character names are the most imaginative writings in the film.) Arkin appeared several lines as if he was paid for by an exclamation mark, but at least he did not walk on digital eggshells.
Farrell played Holt Farrier, a former horse coach and acrobatic racer at the Circus Medici Brothers’ DeVito, who had just returned from the French battlefield without arms. During his tenure as a soldier, influenza took his wife, leaving him alone to raise two of their wet-eyed children, Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). When Holt suggested Milly develop the action for the show, he told him that he would become a scientist because “Maybe I don’t need people to look at me all the time.” Ouch. Financial pressure had forced DeVito’s friendly showman to sell Holt’s horses, so he accused the veteran of treating a pregnant pachyderm he had just bought in the hope that an adorable baby elephant would bring the crowd back. That also means that when the baby arrives at the big ear, Holt gets the order to … fix the problem.
That the plan involved a modest family-run circus DeVito swallowed up by a maestro with his own amusement park, almost too clear as a metaphor for half of Burton’s 35-year career for 35 years. There are things that need to be admired here: Green, appearing at his third Burton joint, has a warmth that is rarely called to be displayed as Colette Marchant, a French aerialist who wants to be labeled Vandevere as a Dumbo jockey. The order in which Ma Jumbo was locked and finally sent away to defend his little Dumbo from bullies, taken directly from the 1941 film, has emotional weight (and political resonance, however accidental) that persists, no matter how to calculate the design. But I understand. The only creature that might remember Dumbo a year from now is an elephant.