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—

Shazam—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for movie, TV and streaming news wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Spider-Man: Homecoming”

Peter Parker (Tom Holland) has experienced a great deal in his 15 years: He lost his parents and lives with his Aunt May (Marisa Tomei), he was bitten by a radioactive spider that gave him super strength and the ability to climb up walls, and he briefly joined the Avengers at the request of Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) during the battle in Berlin. Stark is letting Peter keep the high-tech Spider-Man suit Stark gave him for that battle. Peter wants to be an Avenger but Stark thinks its best if Peter is just your friendly, neighborhood Spider-Man and deal with mundane street crime in New York City. Adrian Toomes (Michael Keaton) is not your average street criminal. He was once a salvager working to clean up the mess left after the Battle of New York between the Avengers and Chitauri but he was shut down by a government agency taking over the clean-up, ruining him financially. Toomes kept some of the salvaged alien tech and began making very powerful weapons he sells on the black market. Peter, patrolling as Spider-Man, comes across a gang breaking into an ATM using some of Toomes tech and in the fight a corner store across the street from the bank is destroyed. Peter makes it his mission to find out where these weapons are coming from and follows a van containing some of the weapons when he is attacked by a man wearing jet-powered wings and with hydraulic claws on his feet. Toomes has made a flying suit with the alien tech and attacks Peter, nearly killing him. Peter is persistent and tries to capture Toomes and his gang during a weapons deal on the Staten Island Ferry that nearly leads to mass casualties. Stark, angry Peter is taking on missions that are above his experience, takes back the high tech spider suit leaving Peter feeling like a failure and unworthy of being an Avenger.

The cynical among us would look at “Spider-Man: Homecoming” as a blatant cash grab in the third version in 15 years of the character on the big screen. The hopeful among us would look at it, as the title suggests, as a homecoming of sorts for the character as Marvel Studios (owned by Disney) was directly involved in the creation of the story and allowed Tony Stark/Iron Man and Captain America to be used in this film made by Sony/Columbia Pictures. Everyone that enjoys superhero films was just hoping it would at least be an improvement over the Andrew Garfield version of the web-slinging teenager or the third Sam Raimi film. I am happy to report all is looking good in the Spider-verse.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” feels like a more hopeful and positive version of Spider-Man. Perhaps not completely rebooting the character back to the death of Uncle Ben (again) allows this version of Peter Parker to be more positive and less mired in the guilt of that character’s death. That’s not to say Peter doesn’t take the role of being a superhero seriously: If anything he takes it too seriously and devotes all his free time to waiting for a call from Stark to go on another Avengers adventure. This Peter Parker is shown living a dual existence between being a high school student with the responsibilities that entails and being a superhero looking for trouble in his neighborhood. Several times he decides he has to don his suit and face the dangers of his job while letting down his friends and classmates. He leaves a party, leaves an academic decathlon and leaves his date at the homecoming dance and most of the time despite the sacrifice of his personal life; he fails at being a hero. Even when he loses his Stark-tech-enhanced suit, he still feels the obligation to wear his amateurish homemade version and fight the bad guys. It’s his willingness to fail and not give up that makes this Spider-Man especially appealing.

Tom Holland makes a great Peter Parker and Spider-Man. He is obviously enthusiastic about the part, being quoted in interviews saying he’d like to be the web-slinger for the next 30 years. While that’s unlikely he is contracted for a total of six films and it should be fun seeing Holland and the character grow up over time as long as the scripts and stories are good.

Michael Keaton plays perhaps the best villain in any Marvel movie. Adrian Toomes is a menacing figure with a hair-trigger temper but Keaton has the talent and intelligence to play him with a quiet menace and makes his volatility that much more frightening. A scene late in the film could be used as a convincing argument for a best supporting actor Oscar for Keaton. There’s a chance we’ll see him again in future Spider-Man films and I fear Peter Parker is in for a rough time should the Vulture be freed to fly again.

The rest of the cast is strong and provides terrific supporting performances for the leads. Zendaya is especially good as Michelle, a bookish, oddly turned classmate of Peter’s. She is always close by to provide an ego deflating comment or dose of reality for Peter and his best friend Ned (Jacob Batalon).

Marisa Tomei’s version of Aunt May is the most modern and certainly the youngest in the character’s movie history. This Aunt May is a force to be reckoned with for Peter as she isn’t easily put off or deceived. It’s also a source of humor as more than Tony Stark is shown flirting with her or expressing interest in her. There is a great deal of potential in this version of Peter’s guardian including future scenes where she is able to extract herself from trouble without the assistance of her super powered nephew.

While the film is a good mix of humor, character development and action, there are times when the action looks muddy. The CGI battles frequently occur at night, making the fast movements nearly impossible to see. While the special effects are very good during the daylight scenes the nighttime set pieces tend to get lost in the darkness.

There’s also another little thing that bothered me about “Spider-Man: Homecoming.” Peter’s friend Ned discovers his secret identity (not a spoiler as it’s in the trailer) but then he can’t stop talking to Peter about it in school, constantly asking him questions even when they are surrounded by other students. If I had a secret of that size I certainly wouldn’t want my friend chatting about it out loud around other people. There are numerous situations where Ned is asking question but he isn’t being subtle and there are always people standing or sitting nearby. It is a recipe for having your secret spread all over school in no time and inevitably discovered by the super villains you fight. That really stuck out to me.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action violence, brief suggestive comments and some language. There are numerous fights but no gore. One person is turned into a pile of ash by an alien weapon. Spider-Man is shown being dragged behind a van and thrown into trash cans and mailboxes. There is a plane crash and other mayhem caused by the weapons. I do not remember anything that could be considered suggestive other than some very mild comments about Aunt May. Foul language is mild and scattered.

At the end of the film we are promised Spider-Man will return. We know he’s in “Avengers: Infinity War” as well as its sequel and two more scheduled solo movies. That, along with his appearance in “Captain America: Civil War,” would total Tom Holland’s six contracted films as the web slinger. While it is difficult for any series of films to maintain the quality of the original, Marvel seems to be more successful at it than most. Maybe, just maybe, we’ll have this Spider-Man for a while and not need to reboot the franchise for quite some time. As long as the future films are as good as “Spider-Man: Homecoming” I’m perfectly happy with that.

“Spider-Man: Homecoming” gets five stars.

Three new movies open in wide release this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

The Big Sick—

War for the Planet of the Apes—

Wish Upon—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.