Dumbo

Dumbo poster

Where’s the magic? Where’s the delight? Where’s the fun? It’s not here.

Tim Burton’s live action remake of Disney’s 1941 animated film Dumbo is lacking in the qualities that have made Disney films special. Burton’s Dumbo is just okay, not special.

Yes, the CGI version of the baby elephant with big ears looks real. When he flies, the depiction looks good. The technical aspects of Dumbo are solid.

Yes, the cast is star-studded. Max Medici (Danny Devito) is the owner of a struggling circus that plays small towns a century ago. Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) is the circus performer returning from WWI minus a left arm. V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton) is the Barnum-like showman who brings Medici’s circus to New York. Colette (Eva Green) is Vandevere’s girlfriend and star acrobat.

Yes, there are cute kids. Nico Parker is a charmer as Millie Farrier, Holt’s daughter. Son Joe Farrier is played by Finley Hobbins. (Mrs. Farrier is deceased—yet another Disney dead mom!)

Yes, there is a message about turning a perceived handicap into an advantage: Dumbo’s deformity gives him the ability to fly.

Yes, there is spectacle. The Medici circus, with its variegated cast of performers (animal and human), works hard to entertain in its tent and on the midway. When Dumbo’s extraordinary talent is revealed, the circus goes big time to Dreamland, a giant amusement area like Coney Island.

Yes, all the pieces are there. And yet, something’s missing. As one who grew up with Disney films and TV shows, I recall being emotionally invested in so many of their stories and characters. It didn’t happen for me with this newest version of Dumbo.

Interestingly, in the film’s production notes there is a quote from director Tim Burton in which he admits that as a kid he did not like the circus. To his credit, Burton’s Dumbo is not as gratuitously weird as his films sometimes are.

With live action versions of Aladdin (May 24) and The Lion King (July 19) in the pipeline, one can only wonder if they will recapture the Disney magic that the animated versions from the early 90s had.

 

 

 

 

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Frankenweenie

“Frankenweenie” is classic Tim Burton—weird and goofy. It riffs on the original “Frankenstein” movie as well as several others films.

Victor Frankenstein is a schoolboy in the town of New Holland, which looks amazingly like the town in “Edward Scissorhands.” Except in “Frankenweenie,” the houses are not pastel-colored, they are in black-and-white.

Victor’s science teacher, who looks like a character from a Don Martin cartoon in Mad magazine, demonstrates how electrical current can cause a dead frog’s legs to move. This inspires Victor to exhume his dog Sparky, recently killed when hit by a car, and use lightning to reanimate him.

When Victor’s friend Andrew, an Igor lookalike, spreads word of Victor’s success, the other kids in town then reanimate their deceased pets and havoc ensues.

“Frankenweenie” exceeds expectations with its clever characters, terrific animation, a decent story and a great sense of humor. The energy and tempo are more consistent here than in Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Corpse Bride.”

Unlike Burton’s previous stop-motion animated films, “Frankenweenie” is not a musical. The soundtrack is by Burton’s longtime music man, Danny Elfman.

Among favorite elements of “Frankenweenie” is Victor’s attic which functions as his lab, not unlike Dr. Frankenstein’s in the 1931 classic film. Also, some of the New Holland townsfolk look like they stepped directly out of a Gary Larson “Far Side” comic panel. The opening scene with Victor showing a movie he made (starring Sparky) is priceless. The science teacher’s response when a parents’ group attempts to chastise him is a wonderful piece of writing.

“Frankenweenie” is rated PG. Preschoolers will be bored by the movie, but most kids will, I think, like it. Adults who appreciate Tim Burton’s sensibilities will love it.

Personal note: I saw “Frankenweenie” less than 24 hours after my own dog died. I was concerned about seeing a movie about a dog being killed. But “Frankenweenie” entertained me and actually lifted my spirits a bit. It’s been a tough week. I miss my dear dachshund Princess. But I look forward to seeing “Frankenweenie” again soon.

Dark Shadows

It’s simple: if you are a Depp fan, you must see “Dark Shadows.”

“Dark Shadows” is not Tim Burton’s best film. It has flaws. But it has Johnny Depp in a meaty role as the vampire Barnabas Collins. Depp is the reason to see the movie.

Another good is Eva Green as the witch Angelique. She looks great and she has fun with the role.

The two share a lovemaking scene that’s a classic. It’s not particularly sexy, but the way they literally bounce off the walls is ridiculously outrageous. At the end of their tryst, the room looks more like the site of a violent brawl than that of a hookup.

The story is set in 1972. After spending over two centuries underground in a casket, Barnabas is dug up by a construction crew. As he encounters modern life, he experiences some amusing culture shock.

We, the audience, get to enjoy our time travel backward 40 years to the cars and culture of ’72. “Deliverance” and “Superfly” are on movie marquees; the Carpenters sing “Top of the World” on a TV show. (One notable anachronism: Lyrics are recited from Steve Miller’s “The Joker,” which did not come along until 1973. And the Raspberries 1972 hit “Go All the Way,” which played over the closing credits, was not the original hit version—shameful!)

Since Barnabas spurned Angelique’s romantic overtures in the 1700’s, she turned him into a vampire and sent him to his 200+ year dirt nap. When he comes alive again in ’72, she’s still around and still desiring Barnabas.

Another reason to see the movie is the amazing 15-year-old Chloe Grace Maretz as the daughter of the ’72 era matriarch of the Collins clan. This young woman (best known for “Hugo,” “Kick-Ass” and “30 Rock”) sparkles on the big and small screens. With the right role, she could be an Oscar winner by age 21.

Add in Alice Cooper performing “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” and you have another hook to lure you in.

“Dark Shadows” is uneven and may fall short of some expectations/anticipations. But I like Depp, even in his less-than-awesome movies, and he’s fun to watch here.