I remember a time when Disney was the most magical thing in the world. Producing films like Cinderella, The Little Mermaid and Mulan; the studio was the first to introduce animation into the mainstream. Going one step further, their reputation only got better as they purchased the state of the art 3D animated studio Pixar in 2006. Even though their animation continues to break boundaries, Disney are becoming transparent with their live action feats... and Dumbo is the best example of their sheer greed. In their latest attempt to cash in on the classics, Dumbo sees dark director Tim Burton return to the company nine years after succeeding with his off the wall take on Alice in Wonderland.
A young elephant is born with oversized ears that enable him to fly, and travelling with his performing friends they soon realise there are dark secrets beyond the big top. Disney soar to a new low with this freak show remake. Dumbo is de-tusked of the grace and tragedy of the 1942 original, crashing straight to the circus floor. Behind the white grease paint and red button noses, you can see Disney smirking with dollar signs in their eyes. It seems there is no magic or imagination left in these live action outings - Beauty and the Beast, Nutcracker and the Four Realms and Christopher Robin to name a few have confirmed that we are no longer being treated as individuals hoping to be inspired, we are just the subjects that turn up to swell the studio coffers.
Dumbo twists Burton's direction so much that his legendary presence is almost entirely absent. There is none of that weird and wonderful creativity, none of that dark and warping world building. His creative influence is missing in a film that is clearly - and tightly - dictated by studio execs. At one point, as the crowd prepares for Dumbo's impossible flying act there is a particular wide shot that reveals a stack of elephant plushys neatly pilled up for children to gape at, but these aren't just any old elephants, these are genuine Dumbo toys currently available for purchase in the Disney store. There is a fine line between product placement and blatant cash grabbing, and Dumbo is an appalling effort by Disney. It's disheartening to see once enchanting films become increasingly more like studio cash cows, rather than stimulating and avant-garde re-imaginings with up to date brush strokes.
Then there's the characters, each of who have about as much personality as the performing mice (who by the way don't talk in this recreation). Eva Green is probably the most engaging as trapeze artist Colette - Colin Farrell plays the insipid war veteran Holt Farrier, and as for Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito, the two are each dumped with over-the-top and hammed up characters and absolutely no other development. Like the film itself, literally every single character in Dumbo is pointless. Tainting the elegant source material with clunky storytelling, forced merchandising, as well as a tagged on message about animal preservation in the last ten minutes, I don't think Disney could sink any lower. That being said, with two more live action remakes penciled in for this summer, who knows what toys they will be promoting next.
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Hi I’m James - a huge welcome to my film blog! I started this site just after my 14th birthday and have been bringing you my own take on the hottest box office arrivals and many art house triumphs ever since.