Thu, 04 Apr 2019
Running time 1hr 52min
FAMILY-oriented period whimsy is all the rage on the big screen right now; this live-action remake of Disney’s Dumbo is the latest film to attempt to step into The Greatest Showman’s shoes, and, when all’s said and done, it’s only a slightly more gratifying picture. There’s much to marvel at here – director Tim Burton continues to flaunt his talents in the CGI
department, and the film just about works as a visual showcase. Yet the transition from traditional animation can make for a fraught, bewildering, even traumatic business – only pure cinematic aplomb can elevate a project like this above the status of a particularly shameless cash-in. In this regard, Dumbo rings resoundingly hollow. Relative to the raw emotional punch of the original, this new version mostly fails to take flight, testing our patience with countless false starts as it stumbles towards a tortuous final act.
The human cast take centre-stage in this new version; it’s a predictably star-studded affair, though the standard of the individual performances proves a decidedly less reliable quality. Colin Farrell does the stoic-Disney-hero thing rather well, playing an injured veteran assigned to the care of the titular elephant; clumsy writing, however, renders his a frustratingly mediocre contribution. Danny DeVito is on typical panto-villain form, strutting his stuff as a shysterish ringmaster – though his part makes for an undemanding watch, it recalls his best work of the last two decades and can, hence, be enjoyed on its own terms. The other ‘major’ billings struggle to make a mark, drowned out as they are by all the noise and pizzazz – Eva Green’s acrobat feels tacked-on, and even the great Michael Keaton is reduced to something of a cardboard cut-out, bumbling through a role that was practically written for him.
Dumbo is, needless to say, THE quintessential circus-cruelty fantasy – 70 years have done little to blunt its sentimental effect and such sequences as the caging of the young hero’s mother are bound to move even the most cynical of youngsters.
Burton is a filmmaker with a real sense for such juvenile grotesquerie – his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory adaptation played a remarkable balancing act, staying broadly true to the spirit of Roald Dahl’s beloved novel just as its gothic weirdness found new meaning in an old yarn. Initially, it seems feasible that the director might pull off a similar feat here – there’s something uncanny about the very appearance of 2019 Dumbo, conjured to hirsute life amid a world of gingerbread darkness. Yet it pairs this enticing setup with needless story detail and it is this factor, above all, which prevents the film’s ascent to anything like the original’s poignant heights.