The texture of “Dumbo” is an unusual one. The original, one of the first films from the animation studio at Disney, was barely a feature and buried in the lingo and perception of the time. Like “Pinnochio”, the perception was not on reality or magical realism but purely an simple surrealist fantasy. There was an edge of darkness for sure but yet the story seemed very intimate. It was not a story told by humans but by the animals themselves. The texture of a mouse and an elephant becoming friends and overcoming obstacles against those who would make them perform. The aspect of the dark world and the unknown coming towards the innocent while blended in the wonder of flight. These thematic bases are textures that were essential in “Pinnochio” and even “Bambi”. Tim Burton creates a mileau to understand “Dumbo” in the modern context (even though the story again takes place in the early 1900s). The story points are sound and the essence of whimsy is inferred in many points. But as a fable despite the ultimate resolution, the essence of risk seems candylike.
Most of the characters are painted in saccarine colors and disposition. In many ways, there is a reflectivity of 1950s nostalgia in many ways. Unlike the previous “Dumbo”, the parallels are in a pair of children who have lost their mother and a father unable to connect after returning from the war. The reconnection of both Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito as a circus ringleader and a big time promoter in their first pairing in a way since “Batman Returns” seems to not have the crackle their scenes so richly deserve. In many ways this may be the way the characters are drawn which come off muted at times and two dimensional but nonetheless the archetypes even seem stilted. Granted this is meant to work in an almost hazy way.
However when push comes to shove at the end, it is the circus folk who help propogate the progression of the third act that really harken back to true Burton when the mechanics of the ideas fuel the intention and, by extension, the eccentricities of the characters. The character that should have the most empathy is Dumbo, and that is the success of the movie since, by taking away the muse in Timothy the mouse, forces the texture even more so. While certain aspects of surrealism from the cartoon couldn’t cross over sensibly in a narrative based production per se, Burton does find a way to include pink elephants (which undeniably would be a good reason to take on the show from the get go) although the matter of approaching them is quite different.
Both Colin Farrell and Eva Green take on thankless roles per se that progress the story but adhere to the essence of Burton. But what Dumbo essentially is is Burton-lite, using his talents for a broader, more subdued audience. There is nothing wrong with this at all…it tends to make most of the film though very passive…effectively done…but in many way inert both characterwise and in a way creatively. There is the essential world building that Burton is known for but even the Danny Elfman score has lightness to it. Again, no problems but nothing that lifts the heart undeniably.
There is a glimmer in Dumbo’s eyes as he watches the pink elephants but that is fleeting. But there is also nothing quite like the moment in the animated film where Dumbo’s mother cradles her young baby in her arms from her jail and swings him back and forth. “Dumbo” makes its story in the modern era through an essence of nostalgia and human fraility but in doing so loses a little bit of the magic of being separate. There is a mythic structure in the final shots that bears ode to “The Lion King” in an ironic way. Also, listen to the final notes of the closing credits where that aspect of the original lingers…just a tiny bit.
By Tim Wassberg
“True Detective” bases itself in creating a noir style of world. While many people reserve their judgments on the first viewing, I wanted to see the second episode at least6 to allow a perspective. With last season, I binged watched one night in NYC after seeing Colin Farrell’s “A Winter’s Tale” with about 4 episodes before I headed off to the bar at 2am for a nightcap. Interestingly enough a year or so later, it comes around full circle with Colin in the lead for the second season here. Despite his attempt to create balance, these kind of dark characters are what Colin does best…guys that want to go the high road but fall tempted to their base natures while searching out redemption. This is true of all the characters in this series. In the first 2 episodes, Colin’s is the most pronounced which is why the impact action at the end of the 2nd episode has such effect. If they stick to their guns on it, it shows a great presence of mind with the writers and an interesting movie by Farrell to regain some cred. “Miami Vice” is the last time he progressed deep and entrenched himself and, as a result, that performance has a definitely degree of soul. He went into the backwaters of Ecuador and the DR with Michael Mann while Jamie Foxx opted out. Different people. Here you can see a little bit of that edginess peeking through. Colin is more controlled but he, like Gary Oldman, when properly poised, can do great things. And with Colin, the older he gets the better he gets. Oldman, by comparison, had it right from the start.
In this series, Colin plays a cop in a subsection of downtown/east LA that seems to be under the thumb of questionable figures and is able to keep his head just above water. An aspect of his former fiancée getting raped and her having a son anyway screams dysfunction and Colin embodies it. Not his fault in terms of the character…just a side effect of life. On the other side of the sheet is Vince Vaughn’s gangster who is trying to go legit. It is nice to see this side of Vaughn again but he is not as edgy as he could be. At one point in the second episode you start to see his fangs come out, if all goes well, the animal will rear its head and that is when Vaughn will shine. He needs a resurgence and this will present it. Rachel McAdams’ character is flawed but has the possibilities to be the strongest of them all. When she subtly calls Colin’s character out at one point, it comes off as sly, intelligent and spot on. She does have a immense dark side that shows in different ways whether it be raiding a house where her sister is doing web cams legally as an “art piece” or her research into a suspect who was into escorts. You can see her slipping and that is intriguing to do. This iteration of “True Detective” does not shy away from the darker edges of LA or the near bottom feeders who exist there. People there want to do good (a large part of the main characters are cops) but they just can’t get above water. The use of location is also exceptional too. This is the underbelly of LA that you don’t see or usually see from a different angle (even Malibu).
The last of the main characters is Taylor Kitsch’s motorcycle cop whose deeper seat relationship problems show that the devil is in the details. His character is not as well defined in terms of personality traits in the first two episodes but hopefully his character will unravel in the best possible dramatic way. “John Carter” wasn’t his fault as it was not a bad film. Its timing, like “Tomorrowland”, was simply wrong. “Battleship”, of course, is another story. And in Season 2, even supporting characters are great from Colin’s boozy would be partner (Bruce McGill is that you?) to Kelly Reilly as Vaughn’s better half/black widow partner. The reality is that her character can likely cause some widespread carnage. We’ll see. The first two episode of Season 2 of “True Detective” is a different animal than its predecessor and will be held under the microscope with infinitely more scrutiny. While the former had the element of surprise and Louisiana, it is a matter of time to whether LA can stand up to the challenge. So far though, it is working.