There is no denying director Tim Burton has a knack for visual flair. We’ve seen it in his earlier works like “Edward Scissorhands,” “Batman Returns” and even 1996’s campy romp “Mars Attacks!” Those films, however, also had a breath of fresh air to them, making them something truly special to watch. Burton’s recent effort, a live-action adaptation of Disney’s “Dumbo,” is a representation of a director who just doesn’t have it in him anymore.
The big thing that must be addressed before I delve into what I didn’t like about the film is Dumbo himself. He’s adorable. A wide-eyed, big-eared elephant who flies is going to win over my heart every time. I want a Dumbo for myself, so I can love him and pinch his cheeks. I would die for Dumbo. There, I said it.
Tim Burton’s involvement in this film is a jarring one. It doesn’t really feel like a project that he would find interest in, and it shows. Instead of attempting to recreate the joy and optimism you could find in the 1941 predecessor, Burton opts to instill his trademark brand of cynicism that, while once endearing and quirky, is now maddening.
To make matters worse, Burton packs the film with additional plot that doesn’t enhance the central story relating to Dumbo. This tells me he was given a mandate on the film’s runtime, which results in an end product that overstays its welcome before the third act has even started.
While the overall writing of the film is an improvement for screenwriter Ehren Kruger—especially in comparison with his earlier works like “Transformer: Age of Extinction”—his partnership with Burton doesn’t supply him with much leg-room. Burton being the auteur he is doesn’t warrant a great deal of creative license by his collaborators. Whatever he does is his and his alone, and if a script just so happens to be implicitly great, then all the more power to him.
The decision to focus a greater deal on human characters than in the 1941 counterpart is one the film’s biggest sin. Thespians like Michael Keaton, Colin Farrell and Danny DeVito are wasted in roles that don’t do justice to the skills they possess. Keaton, in particular, plays a mustache-twirling villain who would’ve been better off played by Johnny Depp. Actually, thinking about it a little more, Keaton feels like he’s channeling a manic energy that Depp usually brings to a Burton film. Was the latter not available?
Perhaps even greater a sin than the actors who are wasted in this film is Disney’s insistence on repackaging the past and selling it back to us.
I’ll put it out there that there is something to be gained by reinterpreting animated films of yore in a live-action setting. By bringing something to life, we as an audience are more willing to believe in the characters, believe in the fiction and fantasy and, as a result, believe in our imaginations.
The thing is, though, these live-action adaptations of animated classics feel less like an opportunity to bridge reality and fantasy—to strengthen the ropes of our suspension of disbelief—and more of an attempt to print that green. Have we reached a place where originality is becoming a dying breed? When did having a unique idea go out of style?
Disney, be better. You have the resources to be the greatest movie studio in history. Stop recycling childhoods and instead make new ones. The future hasn’t done anything to you; stop treating it like it isn’t deserving of its own cherished memories. 2.5/5