You’ve seen a housefly, you’ve seen a dragonfly, but have you ever seen a live-action remake flop? Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls of all ages (and shout out to all the gender non-binary/non-conforming people, too!), prepare yourselves for disappointment and to leave theaters scratching your heads wondering exactly what you just watched. It’s Tim Burton‘s remake of the Disney animated classic Dumbo!
The weakest part of this film is that it is trying to update and remake Dumbo, a beautiful but problematic animated film whose running time is a scant 64 minutes, and probably only 40 minutes or so once you remove all of the objectionable elements. And so Burton’s updated version here actually zooms through most of what we think of as the Dumbo story in the first hour of the film, leaving room for an additional story where our baby flying elephant goes to work for a big city circus led by Michael Keaton. Here he’s paired with a French acrobat Colette (Eva Green) and expected to make big bucks for the big circus, which transforms into a messy third act that seems to simultaneously indict capitalism and the circus as an institution as Dumbo’s human friends (of course led by two plucky children!) and a team of circus folk plot a rescue for Dumbo and his mother to set them free.
Blame screenwriter Ehren Kruger for this mess, as he is also responsible for the travesties of the worst of the Transformer movies (Revenge of the Fallen, Dark of the Moon, and Age of Extinction) Yes, the guy who gave us problematic racist sterotype robots was asked to reshape Dumbo and its problematic racist stereotype crows. PS- the film just skips over the crows.
But in skipping over some of the glaring imperfections, we’re also left with an incredibly hollow and predictable story. All of the parts of this film that are uniquely Dumbo were better done in the animated film. Pink Elephants on Parade gets a Circue de Soleil type reimagining with acrobats and giant bubble machines and pink lights put on for a cheering audience. But gone is the charm and menace of this being a hallucination brought on by a baby elephant getting drunk on champagne. Baby Mine is still sad and heartbreaking, but isn’t adding anything that the original didn’t already have.
Despite all those negatives, there are some nice spots in the film. The central idea of the precocious misfit kids (the girl wants to be a scientist like Marie Curie! How progressive!) and their bond with the misfit baby elephant is still charming. The actors’ performances are doing all they can with this lackluster script. Eva Green is as captivating as always, even if her part is woefully underwritten. And then into the third act saunters Alan Arkin as a rich investor and steals every moment he’s on screen.
Some of the best moments come from the on-screen chemistry between rival and then partner circus ringmasters Danny DeVito and Michael Keaton. They’re both a joy to watch, even if they occasionally take me out of the film reminding me this isn’t the first time I’ve seen them paired up against one another in a Tim Burton film.
And therin lies part of the crux of the problem with Dumbo. As I’ve said, the parts that are uniquely Dumbo are simply better done in the original animated film. And what’s left? Well, perhaps it would have been better as an original Tim Burton movie about a creepy circus and an attempt to free the animals from subjugation. It’s where the movie actually really shines and the only place where it feels like a Tim Burton film as we get into the cool art deco design of the (intentionally/subversively?) Disneyland-esque “Dreamland” park, and especially “Nightmare Island” where the “dangerous creatures” are kept.
There are even two long, lingering shots of Dreamland selling Dumbo plush toys, as though Burton is trying to send us a coded message that he knows this is all a pretense to sell merchandise. There are also a couple of waaaaaay inside jokes aimed at people with an intimate knowledge of the Disneyland parks of yesteryear. That’s where this movie shines, where it feels subversive and like Burton is poking fun at the cashgrab nature of his enterprise. I’m here for that Tim Burton for days. But then he intersperses it with cringeworthy moments like a cameo from Michael Buffer, and if you are familiar with his work. . . you know what’s coming. And it’s terrible.
And also, for god’s sake, don’t waste Danny Elfman‘s talents asking him to redo the 1941 score. It’s the most underwhelming waste of his talents since his Age of Ultron score, which he famously complained about being so limited because he was just asked to ape a temp track. It feels very much the same here.
And so, unfortunately, all I’m left with is a weird feeling that I wish I’d just watched Big Fish and the original Dumbo instead. Those are great movies: even despite Dumbo‘s problematic elements, it’s still a classic. This. . . this is just not.
I’ve been fine with most of the previous Disney live-action remakes. Each of them, up to now, at least brought something new or different to the party. Despite occasional flashes of brilliance, this does not. As so we’re left to ask, who exactly is this movie for? Fans aren’t going to get what they want, and this is by no means new or innovative or interesting enough to warrant your hard-earned money (reminder that taking a family of four to a full-price movie plus snacks can cost almost as much as a single Disneyland ticket). Stay home and pop in your copy of the original or Big Fish and enjoy yourself.
Greetings, True Believers! Rest assured– Spider-Man: Homecoming is the Spider-Man movie you have been waiting for.
When we last left our friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, he made a small, but memorable, appearance in last summer’s Captain America: Civil War. He stole Cap’s shield, and basically the entire movie, in just a couple of scenes.
Our film opens with a video diary from his point of view of everything that happened in Germany. “a Film by Peter Parker” it says in courier script as he narrates, “Queens, New York. A rough borough, but it’s home.”
“Who are you talking to?” an irate Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) asks from the driver’s seat, as he puts up the privacy divider in the car to stop being pestered by the teen’s questions: “Why do they call you Happy?”
As Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) drops Peter Parker (Tom Holland) off at his Queens apartment, he tells him, “Can’t you be more of a. . . friendly neighborhood Spider-Man? . . . Just don’t do anything I would do. And definitely don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. There’s a little gray area in there– and that’s where you operate.”
And there is no better summation of how this movie fits in with the broader Marvel Cinematic Universe. Those movies span the globe– the universe, even– and this is a story that is mostly confined to Queens and a single school field trip to Washington, DC. Instead of this being about fighting a galactic menace, he’s focused on the people robbing the ATM in his neighborhood or a stolen bike. The Avengers handle the big stuff. Peter Parker handles the little stuff. Manhattan vs. Queens.
But, oh, he does not like that. At all. Every day he’s texting, asking when the next time they’ll need him is. He spends all of his time trying to prove himself, and when he bites off a little more than he can chew with Adrian Toomes aka the Vulture (Michael Keaton), we actually see what a screw-up he is. No, he isn’t ready for the big time, and that’s perhaps the hardest lesson of adolescence.
But one of the best things they did right in this movie is what they don’t do. There’s no origin story of being bitten by a radioactive spider. No Uncle Ben. And while I kind of wanted to see Spidey being motivated by his great power and great responsibility, this just isn’t that story. This is the teenager who wants to grow up too fast. It’s the MCU colliding with John Hughes. The simple fact that there are two very obvious homages to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (one right after the other in case you didn’t get the first one) tells you that’s exactly what they’re going for. And they nail it. I can’t decide if this is a reason I dislike the film or that I like it so much, but it’s that it’s so full of teen angst. And that’s a bold move for a superhero genre movie to stray so far from the formula of what we expect in a reboot.
I only briefly mentioned Keaton before, but he is the real breakout star of this movie. (Insert obligatory Birdman joke). Possibly other than Loki he’s the best MCU villain– because he’s not a bad guy. He starts off a normal guy who gets stepped on and decides to use stolen space technology to provide for his family. Even his name makes sense– the Vulture– because he’s picking the scraps off of whatever fight The Avengers and SHIELD just had.
But he’s menacing. A scene near the end reminds you just how amazing an actor Keaton is. You can almost see the gears in his head turning as he figures things out. And he also has a sense of honor about what he’s doing. But despite his bluster about being against the 1%– let’s be super real, here. We find out he’s doing just fine financially. Yes, he’s worried about providing for his family, but he provides for them in a pretty upper-middle-class way. There’s something to be said here about the rise of the Trump voter and the fear of loss of privilege. . . but I’ll save that diatribe until more people have had a chance to see the movie and can discuss this in more depth with spoilers.
This is not to say the film is flawless. Again, the emphasis on teen angst was certainly intended, but I would’ve liked to see the other side of the character. And as many comedic moments as there are in the film, none were quite as memorable as some of the Joss Whedon or James Gunn moments from The Avengers or Guardians of the Galaxy, or even the most recent Thor: Ragnarok trailer. And a final nighttime action sequence set against the black sky on top of a dark stealth aircraft made the action harder to see and follow. See this in the best theater with the best contrast you possibly can.
This is the Spider-Man movie we’ve all wanted to see. And it’s a great reminder that Marvel Studios understands their characters better than anyone else out there. This should be a wakeup call to Fox or anyone else who has a languishing piece of the Marvel intellectual property– please let Marvel Studios co-produce your next Fantastic Four movie. They might make it not suck. Because Spider-Man: Homecoming does anything but that.
It’s new comic book day! What are folks looking to get? What are you looking forward to? Sound off in the comments below! While you wait for shops to open, here’s some comic news and reviews from around the web in our morning roundup.
BOOM! Studios is heading into San Diego Comic-Con with a bunch of announcements leading up to the convention. For the first one, the comics publisher has revealed that Michael Keaton will star in and produce a film adaptation at 20th Century Fox of the comic seriesImagine Agents, created by Brian Joines.
Written by Joines and illustrated by Bachan, Imagine Agents is the story of two agents who work for clandestine organization I.M.A.G.I.N.E. to keep kids’ imaginary friends under control. Little do they know that an abandoned “friend” from long ago is about to disrupt the status quo and turn everything upside down. The series was published from October 2013 to January 2014, with a collected edition released in December 2014.
BOOM! has a first-look feature film deal at 20th Century Fox that includes first-dollar gross on films based on any of its comics, which the publisher splits with its creators.
BOOM! Studios Founder and Chief Executive Officer Ross Richie will produce the film with Keaton and Anonymous Content’sMichael Sugar. President of Development Stephen Christy will executive produce with Anonymous Content’sEli Selden. Senior Vice President of Film Adam Yoelin will co-produce in cooperation with Anonymous Content’sAshley Zalta.
The internets were all in a storm with the rather shocking news that Ben Affleck has been cast to portray Batman/Bruce Wayne in the Batman/Superman sequel to Man of Steel set to hit theaters in 2015. This isn’t the first time the casting of Batman has caused controversy.
24 years ago Michael Keaton was cast for the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman in Tim Burton‘s version of Batman, which lead to a letter writing campaign that saw 50,000 letters sent to Warner Bros. Letters were those things we had to use to voice displeasure before the internet/Facebook/Twitter. Bob Kane, the man who created Batman, even questioned the casting.
From a New York Times article from 1989 written before the movie’s debut:
Yet even before shooting began at London’s Pinewood Studios last fall, ”Batman” generated more anger than anticipation among the comic book hero’s fans – the hard-core audience for any film such as this. In a massive letter-writing campaign, objections were raised over the studio’s emphasis on this high-concept Batman and the refusal to make a serious square-jawed film out of one of the most popular – and psychologically complex – comic book characters.
The controversy, which erupted in the front pages of The Wall Street Journal and numerous trade publications, focused on the casting of Mr. Keaton, best known as the anarchic prankster in last year’s comedy hit ”Beetlejuice,” as the vengeful vigilante, and the choice of Tim Burton, the ”Beetlejuice” creator and former Disney animator, as the film’s director. The suspicion voiced by hundreds of angry fans was that ”Batman” would be a campy send-up similar to the self-parodying but hugely popular 1960’s television series.
I think we can all agree that turned out pretty well, right?