Review of “Dumbo”

Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) comes home from fighting in World War I in 1919. While he was away, his wife died from influenza and he lost his left arm from a war injury. His children Milly and Joe (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins) are cared for by other people in the circus for whom Holt was once the star performer, doing tricks on horseback. The Medici Brothers Circus travels the country entertaining small-town crowds. The owner, Max Medici (Danny DeVito), has sold off Holt’s horses as the flu epidemic and the war have cut into business. Max puts Holt in charge of the elephants, including his latest acquisition, an Asian elephant named Jumbo. Jumbo is pregnant and gives birth to Jumbo, Jr. The baby elephant has enormous ears and is thought of as a freak. When crowds see Jumbo, Jr., they laugh and throw trash at him, angering his mother, who storms the tent. This leads to Jumbo, Jr.’s name being changed to Dumbo. Dumbo’s mother gets sent off to another attraction, making Dumbo sad. Milly and Joe are playing with Dumbo, blowing a feather back and forth between them when Dumbo sucks the feather into his trunk. This make Dumbo sneeze, causing his ears to flap and lifting him off the ground. None of the adults believe Milly and Joe until an accident under the big top proves Dumbo’s giant ears allow him to fly. The publicity of Dumbo flying attracts the attention of Dreamland amusement park owner V. A. Vandermere (Michael Keaton). His park has a permanent circus and wants Dumbo to be his newest act to secure more financing from billionaire banker J. Griffin Remington (Alan Arkin). He wants his girlfriend and star trapeze artist Colette Marchand (Eva Green) to ride on Dumbo’s back as he flies around the big top. However, Vandermere proves he has dark motives and will do anything to make Dumbo fly.

Disney’s live-action remake of the classic animated 1941 “Dumbo” feels like a cynical cash grab. I know all movies released are meant to make significantly more money than it cost to produce them, however, “Dumbo” feels like everyone is working on the film just to make a paycheck and the lack of caring shows.

“Dumbo” never strikes any of the emotional high notes you would expect from the story. When Dumbo’s mother is comforting him after she gets locked up and is about to be sent away, you should be turned into a blubbering mess, but you’re not. When Dumbo flies around the big top for the first time, proving what the children said to be true, it should be a moment of wonder and joy, but it isn’t. Early on, when Holt steps off the train and sees his children for the first time, there should be some kind of heightened feeling, but there isn’t.

Nothing works emotionally in the story including some of the characters. Milly Farrier is a robot for most of the film. Whether she’s presented with disappointment or triumph, her reaction is the same: Indifference. I don’t believe this is a choice made by actress Nico Parker, but director Tim Burton. Burton seems to be making a film about outsiders and trying to give every character their own weakness or foible. Holt is missing an arm and is a widower. Milly is emotionally shut down. Her brother Joe seems clueless. Medici is a short, small-time con man. Dumbo has big ears and misses his mother. I believe the story Burton is trying to tell is how these outcasts fight to triumph in a world built to keep them down, however, by the end of the film (no spoilers), the only winner is the elephant.

Colin Farrell looks uncomfortable as Holt. He has no chemistry at all with the young actors playing his children. That becomes part of the story as it is referenced over and over again that Holt’s dead wife always knew how to talk to the children, however, even by the end of the film, there’s something off about how Holt, Milly and Joe interact. Perhaps Farrell doesn’t like working the children. Maybe director Tim Burton was trying to up the discomfort between the characters since Holt had been away at war, is perhaps dealing with what we now call PTSD, and has to adjust to being a single parent. Whatever the reason, Farrell looks like he doesn’t want to be there.

Then there is the villain. Keaton’s Vandermere can’t decide if he has a foreign accent or not. He mugs and preens, strutting as if dancing whenever he’s on screen. It’s an odd performance that is hampered by some contradictory choices the script has the character make. I’m not going to spoil it, but Vandermere seems to cut off his nose to spite his face late in the film.

Eva Green’s Colette starts out as a snobbish ice queen but quickly turns into Holt’s ally and a surrogate mother to his children. This transition is far too fast and isn’t precipitated by any major event. She goes from being a diva to a warm-hearted step mom in no time flat.

About the only thing that almost works in “Dumbo” is the elephant and even that has some issues that stick out. Dumbo seems to understand a great deal of English right out of the womb. His blue eyes are weirdly large (it’s rare, but there are blue-eyed elephants in the wild). We see several shots from Dumbo’s perspective, and he appears to have mildly warped eyesight. One would think this might hamper his ability to avoid objects in his flight path, but it doesn’t. Dumbo, and most of the animals shown in the film, is computer generated. There are moments when you don’t notice it as much, but frequently the CGI is obvious and that kills any wonder the film might have had for me.

“Dumbo” is rated PG for peril/action, some thematic elements, and brief mild language. There are a couple of scenes where fire threatens various characters. A person is killed by a falling big top pole. There is some minor violence that is mostly played for laughs. A person is dragged by a horse. There are threats made to kill various animals and implying some animals were killed to make a pair of boots. Foul language is mostly suggested and mild.

Tim Burton needs to step away from big budget projects. While he has made some entertaining movies for the Disney and others, Burton’s last couple of efforts have been lackluster. I had similar feelings about another Burton film: ‘“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” isn’t a terrible movie. It just isn’t terribly memorable. It looks amazing and features some interesting ideas in regards to people with unique abilities. What it doesn’t do is really strike deep in the heart of the audience and make us care about what happens to the denizens of this peculiar world.’ I guess Burton tries too hard to make his movies about misfits and outsiders when, in this case, he should have concentrated on making a light and sweet family film. It isn’t offensive, but it isn’t entertaining either.

“Dumbo” gets two stars out of five.

A civil rights drama, a Stephen King adaptation and a superhero adventure are making their way to a screen near you. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Best of Enemies—

Pet Sematary—


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Review of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”

Jake (Asa Butterfield) is a typical teenager living in Florida with his dad Frank (Chris O’Dowd) and mom Maryann (Kim Dickens). Jake feels unnoticed by his schoolmates and largely ignored by his family. The only person he feels really close to is his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp). Jake gets a frantic phone call from Abe ranting about him being in danger and unable to protect himself without his gun. When Jake arrives, his grandfather’s house has been ransacked and Abe is lying in the woods behind his house with his eyes missing. Abe begs Jake to follow a map and go on a quest of some sort. Jake doesn’t understand and is so shocked he thinks he sees a giant monster wondering in the woods. Thinking he’s crazy, Jake sees Dr. Golan (Allison Janney), a psychiatrist, who suggests Jake and his father travel to the Welsh island where Abe lived for several years during WWII at a home for orphaned children. Abe had told stories about the incredible woman that ran the home and the unusual children that lived there. Arriving on the island, Jake explores the dilapidated home that was hit during a German bombing raid. There he finds old pictures of the former residents…then one is standing in front of him looking the same as in the picture. Freaking out, Jake runs away but knocks himself out. He awakens being carried across the shoulder of a six-year old girl. Set on the ground, Jake finds himself face to face with the children his grandfather had told him about. They lead him through a cave and he walks out into a completely different world. The bombed out house is good as new and he’s greeted at the door by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and is introduced to her group of peculiar children.

There is a great deal more to the story of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” including time loops, 20-foot tall creatures with sharp, jagged teeth and tentacles emanating from their mouths and a group of people looking for eternal life that eat the eyeballs of “peculiars.” This group is led by Mr. Barron played by Samuel L. Jackson wearing a “Don King” fright wig and chewing enough scenery to require a dentist visit to remove the splinters from his gums. In the hands of Tim Burton, a director known for his films about outsiders looking for acceptance and his visual flare, the movie should have leapt off the screen and wowed us while also moving us to tears. It does neither.

The look of the film is not the problem. Burton and his talented effects crew have created a stunning visual world filled with oddities and surprises. From ornate lead shoes to topiary, there’s very little about “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” that isn’t eye catching. Eva Green’s hairstyle, with whirls, odd points and a blue tint, manages to even provide some entertainment as I wondered how and why they made it look that way.

What comes up short is the emotion, the heart, the desire to feel anything about these children in their odd situation. The story is very predictable and feels like all the passion and energy was left on the pages of the graphic novel on which it is based. Other films based on books, like the “Harry Potter” and “Hunger Games” series, manage to convey the intensity of feeling the characters are experiencing and allowed the audience to feel it too. Perhaps the subject matter “Miss Peregrine’s…” was a bit too whimsical and light to translate from the page to the screen. In any case, the movie merely fills the eyes and not the soul.

It doesn’t help that Asa Butterfield either isn’t a very good actor or was horribly miscast. He looks confused through most of the movie and rarely expresses what appears to be the proper emotion. It’s almost like his response to events occurs half a second later than it should. Seen over and over again, this slight delay becomes increasingly obvious and annoying.

I could go on about the cast, giving each member either their props or comeuppance; however, the only person in this rather large assemblage of actors that really stands out is Samuel L. Jackson and it’s for all the wrong reasons. Jackson seems to be playing a slightly amped up version of himself we see in the Capital One credit card commercials. He’s showboating in a fairly small role to I suppose try and make the part bigger simply by making the character bigger. All he manages to do is stick out like a sore thumb and seem like the wrong actor for the part.

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is rated PG-13 for violence and peril and intense fantasy action. There are a couple of scenes showing a character with the eyes removed from the sockets. There is some scary long-legged monsters shown chasing after the children. One character takes hearts and implants them in both dead and inanimate objects, bringing them to life briefly. Some monsters are shot in the head with a crossbow. There is no foul language.

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” isn’t a terrible movie. It just isn’t terribly memorable. It looks amazing and features some interesting ideas in regards to people with unique abilities. What it doesn’t do is really strike deep in the heart of the audience and make us care about what happens to the denizens of this peculiar world.

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” gets three apathetic stars out of five.

Three new movies hope you feel anything but apathetic about seeing them in the theatre. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Birth of a Nation—

The Girl on the Train—

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life—

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