Disney have once again dipped into their vault to revitalise one of their animated classics with a new lick of live-action paint. Helmed by the supremo of strange himself, Tim Burton, Dumbo tries to recapture the weird and wonderful tone that defined the original.

With Burton comes a distinctly creepy artistic style, which in theory should lend itself perfectly to Dumbo. Sadly, at best the Burton-isms simply fall flat, and at their worst actually detract from the film. Take the colour palette; a film set predominantly in a circus environment should be filled with vibrance and punch, like a funfair on a sunny day. Instead the final product is overcast, muted tones no more vibrant than a stamp collection.

Again, in the director’s typical fashion, there is a smorgasbord of quirky and charming things happening on screen at once. But as well choreographed as some of it may be, once the initial novelty wears off, we’re left with nothing more than a huge computer generated mess. And therein lies the problem. Live-action inherently feels too real, losing much of the magic and mystery that made Disney animation the genre defining force it is today. Take the films iconic Pink Elephants on Parade scene; whilst very pretty in its 3D rendering, it lacks the haunting surrealism and absurdity which can only be replicated by real animation.

Likewise there’s few surprises in terms of plot. When not following the original beat for beat, the story consists of the most generic and predictable developments. Even for a children’s film, we should be past this point by now. It’s not helped by fairly weak acting, particularly some abhorrent child acting from Nico Parker and Finlay Hobbins, as well as a laughable American accent from Colin Farrell. Danny DeVito and Eva Green both put in acceptable performances but there’s nothing to shout about. Even Michael Keaton, chewing elephant sized chunks of the scenery as the villainous V.A. Vandevere, wears thin before the final credits.

But of course the star is the titular flying elephant, who’s been stripped of his ability to sing, dance or even speak. What we’re left with is a googly eyed grey lump which, besides from being quite cute, is devoid of any real character or emotion. So with an unlikeable cast inhabiting a boring world and performing a boring script, what is the audience left with?

The answer is yet another safe but profitable live action Disney remake which doesn’t bring anything unique or innovative to the table. It’s ironic that the central antagonist of Dumbo is a billionaire theme park owner hellbent on corporate profits at the expense of family ethics and small time showbusiness. That’s the position of power Disney currently hold, that they can dangle these supposed values in our face whilst simultaneously sucking our wallets dry, feeding off our childhood nostalgia and yearning for wonder. At least there are no racist crows, so it has that over the original?

2 stars

Image credit: Movie DB

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