This review will be two reviews in one. First off, will the kids like this movie? Boy, I am hard pressed to say one way or another. The audience I saw it with included a fair share of children and I didn’t hear much laughing, giggling, or gasps of glee. Maybe they were delighted within.
However, unlike the 1941 animated version, this Dumbo, nor Mrs. Jumbo his mother, speaks, so that needed connection between a kid and a character is solely dependent on the digital animators’ abilities to make the little elephant come alive through his big blue eyes. It didn’t work for me, but it may for your child.
As for the adults in the audience, particularly for all of us Tim Burton fans …. well, let me start at the beginning.
The first scene of the film, the tracking shots of the Casey Jones Junior train pulling into the circus grounds, all the animals and acrobats, the old and worn train cars painted with period advertisements, the Maxfield Parrish turquoise skies, were absolutely beautiful. Rick Heinrichs, the production designer that has been with Burton since his youthful days at Disney, from their first film together, Vincent, creates a world that hums with charm and the possibility of magic.
Danny Elfman’s music, as always, hits just the right note, a perfect alchemy of artful boldness, wry humor, and earnest pathos.
At this point, it’s looking good.
Then the actors enter the scene. Danny DeVito plays the nice Danny DeVito, as opposed to the creepy Danny DeVito. Colin Farrell as Holt Ferrier returns from the first World War minus an arm, but hoping to restart his life as a lasso-tossing trick rider. In his sad-eyed, laconic performance, underplayed as much as his touch of Texas accent, he steps out of the steam at the train station to meet his motherless children, his wife having died while he was away fighting in France.
Nice set-up, but the trouble begins with his children, particularly his daughter Millie, played by Nico Parker, in her first film role. A striking looking child, her acting is as wooden as the weathered boards on the side of the train cars. Playing a smart and scientific child, the young actress interprets that as speaking in a robotic, unemotional and unengaging monotone, every line a concluding sentence. Her brother is a little more natural, but not enough for the two of them to be the empathic anchors of the film. Without being able to feel for and with the kids, it’s bumpy skies ahead.
Along for the ride is a group of low-rent circus performers, all pleasant as can be, and all representing the classic Burtonesque troop of outsiders … an African-American strongman and accountant, a plus size, sweet-singing mermaid, an Indian snake charmer, a married pair of Hispanic magicians … but they’re markedly bland, making me long for the earlier menageries of characters in Beetlejuice, A Nightmare Before Christmas, and Ed Wood.
And then there is Dumbo.
The first time he flew under the big top it was one of the film’s rare moments of magic, largely due to Elfman’s swooping score.
Other than that, again, pretty bland. For me, he was never a real character but rather a product of digital wizardry. Intriguing in the trailers, but incapable of carrying the emotional heart of the film as he soared and flopped his oversized ears.
As for Michael Keaton’s big business man and promoter, V. A. Vandervere, this was a performance aimed at Johnny Depp freakishness (think Burton”s Willie Wonka) but missing the target by the width of this fair land. It was frankly an awful performance by a fine actor. It’s too bad, too, because Burton used to be so good at handling campy performances. Johnny Depp in Ed Wood Christoph Waltz in Big Eyes, or Alan Arkin in Edward Scissorhands come to mind. Alan Arkin actually plays a small role in this film, and to be honest, it was one of the few believable performances.
As for the story, it was written by Ehren Kruger, who also penned several of The Ring and Transformer movies. Here, too, he goes for high concept at the cost of an engaging connection to the characters and a plot that matters.
Did I mention the production design? I know I did, but I want to say again how great it is. The latter part of the film is set in an elaborate, Art Deco theme park, Dreamland, that in all its glitz, glory and consumerism is both a tribute to Disneyland and a (purposeful?) critique.
And it’s not the only critique in the film, for, in the end, Dumbo is a message film against animal cruelty and for animal rights, against corporate life and for diversity. It just isn’t very good, and for this Tim Burton fan, a real disappointment.
I would love to know if Tim Burton has any more original work in him. Who can forget Winona Ryder dancing in the ice storm of shavings as Johnny Depp craves an angel in Edward Scissorhands? (One of my favorite moments in all film history) Or Jack Skelton delivering creepy Christmas gifts in The Nightmare Before Christmas (shared salute to director Henry Selick)? Or Johnny Depp facing down the Headless Horseman in Sleepy Hollow? Or the dark and bloody world of Sweeny Todd, for my money one of the finest screen musicals of last few decades. God, I miss that Tim Burton. How I miss Burton’s world. Please come back to it, Tim.
No Question Mark Box Here; Super Mario Delivers a 1-Up in Theaters
If you were born in the ’80s, ’90s, or literally ANY decade after those, you know about Super Mario. A cultural phenomenon was brought to life on the big screen this last weekend. One that has not only stood the test of time but reinvented itself time and time again. This wasn’t even the first time it’s been made into a movie but, well, let’s be honest.. some of us choose not to acknowledge the LIVE action adaptation of the beloved game from 30 years ago.
It was pretty bad… But this was animation. ILLUMINATION animation at that. The Universal company that brought us Gru and his Minions, showed us the Secret Life of Pets, and gave us a reason to SING! Still, I had my reservations and even some concerns, especially when the casting was announced.
Eyebrows were raised. As big of stars as they were on paper, could they really deliver on voicing characters from a staple of our childhood? They did.
Chris Pratt and Charlie Day may not be Italian, and Jack Black may not be a King or Turtle creature from the Mushroom Kingdom, but they make the characters their own all while paying homage to the lore of a video game.
From the jump, the story reintroduces us to the brothers that just want to save Brooklyn one clogged sink at a time. We feel an instant connection and relate to these “underdogs of the plumbing world”. The movie is riddled with easter eggs, each of which tugs on the heartstrings of every generation of Mario fandom. And the soundtrack was beautifully put together to not only make us feel like we’re taking a walkthrough of the game but like an experience all its own with some familiar favorites thrown in.
Every word in the movie is pure eye candy for both those that are casual fans, and those analyzing every frame to see what they’ll catch next. Bowser’s ship, the Mushroom Kingdom, Kong’s arena, and the Rainbow Road.. They’re all meant to give us just enough of a “new” look at these amazing worlds, but stay true to how we remember them.
The movie itself moves along at the perfect pace. Although, if you don’t really know ANYTHING about the Super Mario Bros, you may have gotten a little lost and felt left behind in the green tunnel. But that’s ok! It’s an adventure of the imagination and a classic story of a boy that meets a girl and tries to save the world from a monster that wants to destroy it.
What’s funny is that you could easily say this is a story about two characters who couldn’t be more opposite if they tried, battling to win the heart of a princess. Who would’ve thought that the King of the Koopas was just trying to impress his crush?
And that song? Ohhh THAT song! It’s my new ringtone and deserves the Oscar for Best Original Song.
Back to the movie.
Universal and Illumination clearly understood the assignment. Is it missing some things or could things have been done differently or even better? Absolutely! We’re the worst critics of the things we hold nearest and dearest to our hearts. But if you’re up for going on a 90-minute adventure through amazing worlds, with awesome music, and characters that’ll make you smile and laugh, then this is the perfect movie to spring you into that warm summer feeling.
Plus there’s the whole part with karts and shells, and banana peels and oh my goodness how amazing was that?? It’s enough to make you want to stand up and cheer, then go home and destroy your friends and family on your favorite track haha.
The bottom line, it pays homage in all the right ways to the little guy with the mustache, while giving us something new and exciting. Take the kids and go see Super Mario Bros. You’ll be glad you did!
Warner Bros. Discovery Home Entertainment returns to WonderCon 2023
Justice League x RWBY: Superheroes & Hunters Opening Act Saturday, March 25 at 1:30 p.m. on North 200A. Talent confirmed so far to participate in the post-screening panel is Natalie Alyn Lind (Big Sky, The Goldbergs, Gotham) as Wonder Woman/Diana Prince and longtime RWBY cast member Lindsay Jones (Camp Camp) as Ruby, Kara Eberle ( RWBY: Ice Queendom) as Weiss, Arryn Zech (Detective Now Dead) as Blake and Barbara Dunkelman (Blood Fest) as Yang – along with Jeannie Tirado (Soul, Saints Row) as Green Lantern and Tru Valentino (The Rookie, The Cuphead Show!) as a cyborg. Also attending the panel will be producer/director Kerry Shawcross (series RWBY) and writer Meghan Fitzmartin (Supernatural, Justice Society: World War II).
Warner Bros. Discovery Home Entertainment returns to WonderCon 2023 with the big screen debut from DC Animated Films: highlights this year include the world premieres of the highly anticipated Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham and Justice League x RWBY: Superheroes & Hunters Part One the weekend of March 24-26 in Anaheim, California. Both screenings will be followed by panel discussions with actors and creators. Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham premieres at The Arena on Friday, March 24 at 6 p.m. Tati Gabrielle (Kaleidoscope, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Uncharted) as Kai Li Cain, Christopher Gorham (The Lincoln Lawyer, Insatiable) as Oliver Queen, David Dastmalchian (Dune, Suicide Squad, Ant-Man) as Grendon, producer/co-director Sam Liu (The Death and the Return of Superman), co-director Christopher Berkeley (Young Justice) and screenwriter Jase Ricci (Teen Titans Go! and DC Super Hero Girls: Mayhem Across the Multiverse).
Both films will have encore screenings in the Arena on Sunday, March 26. Justice League x RWBY: Super Heroes & Huntsmen, Part One will screen at 12:15pm, followed by Batman: The Doom That Came To Gotham at 2:00pm