This week saw a teaser trailer and poster drop for next year’s Dumbo, Disney’s live action remake of their 1941 movie. WoM, a huge Disney fan with a soft spot for the big eared elephant is extremely keen to see it, whereas for me it comes nowhere near troubling my “Films I’m Excited For” lists. Here I’m gonna explain why.
1. Not fussed on the original
When I was a little kid, I got massively upset watching the original film because I hated the way the other characters bullied Dumbo and it made me cry. Because of this I kinda ignored the film until I decided to watch and blog about every Disney Classic (these will resume shortly). I was hesitant, but gave it a rewatch.
I was not impressed. The story is brief and fragmented, and while “Baby Mine” tugs at the heartstrings, the rest of the movie left me cold.
Also, there are clowns. And I hate clowns.
2. Circus as a Family?
One thing I did like about the original, was that it doesn’t paint the circus world in an overly positive light- the animals are caged and bored, the punters are cruel and mock our hero and the carnies are mean and exploitative. And the clowns are jerks.
Therefore it’s a little worrying to see the teaser trailer include some bollocks about the circus being a family.
You can’t make out that Dumbo wants to be there or is happy, circus treatment of animals was horrible and surely the happy ending nowadays should be instead of becoming a circus star, Dumbo should instead fly off to freedom?
Reading the film’s Wikipedia page it looks like we may get Michael Keaton as the villainous moneybags who’s after the flying elephant, with Colin Farrell as the nice guy circus worker and Danny De Vito as his boss. De Vito’s character will probably be put forward as a bit of a rogue, but ultimately good compared to Keaton’s despite both being in the exploiting animals game.
3. Tim Burton
I have serious issues with Tim Burton. He’s one of those frustrating directors who can make great movies but regularly churns out dross. At his best he can craft striking visuals and interesting stories of outcasts and weirdos (Sleepy Hollow, Frankenweenie, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood) but he can also lose himself in art student pretension and almost self parody.
Is he suited to making a kid’s film like Dumbo? Or will his quirks unbalance the whole thing?
4. Disney’s Track Record
Since they decided to start remaking their animated movies Disney have had mixed results. While I loved two of these films (The Jungle Book and Beauty and the Beast), I found Cinderella to be a bit limp and needless, and Maleficent took an imperious and evil villain and added a mopey backstory and turned her into a tragic heroine. Sorry, but it didn’t work for me.
So, will this be a case of creating a film which is both familiar yet individually charming, or a rather pointless remake?
I hate clowns. We don’t need more films featuring clowns.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
As ever this is my personal ranking of the movies I saw this year.
Carried by the easy charisma of Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron, nobody could call this movie smart but it kept the laughs coming with an OTT plot and some nice touches. Read my full review here.
9. Kong: Skull Island
Glorious on the IMAX screen, this succeeded where Godzilla failed in succeding as a fun movie. The monster throwdowns are entertaining and the 1970s setting works. Sure, I didn’t quite buy Tom Hiddleston as an SAS badass, but other than that a solid blockbuster. Review here.
8. Wonder Woman
The strongest DC movie so far this gives us the background of Diana (Gal Gadot) coming to the world of men.
It’s a decent movie, but WW only gets a handful of fights with enemies equal to her own abilities and there is way too much slo-mo. Also, in a film which repeatedly talks about how wrong violence is, the Amazons fighting are clearly supposed to look cool. A decent movie, but I think some reviews were a bit hyperbolic. My own response is more measured.
7. Baby Driver
Edgar Wright produces a fun, fast paced action musical loaded with killer songs and a great cast. Slick and in touch with its genre roots. Here’s my quick review.
6. Spider-Man: Homecoming
The first Spidey movie that for me truly got the character right with Tom Holland excelling inside and outside of the suit. It captures the struggles of Peter Parker both as a regular teen and with his new powers and responsibilities. Having Robert Downey Junior’s Tony Stark as a mentor figure is a nice touch and Michael Keaton’s Vulture is a cracking villain, with layers the character has lacked.
Hugely entertaining, with some great action sequences and quality gags this was like a Spider-Man book come to life. I gush even more here.
5. Beauty and the Beast
Disney manage to give a live action spin to one of their best animated films. It works because it captures the original magic while also deepening and strengthening the story. I loved it.
Hugh Jackman has been playing everyone’s favourite Canadian mutant for almost two decades. This his ninth outing is the perfect way to hang up the role. With an end of the line feel this grim, gritty tale sees an aging, failing Wolverine looking after a dementia struck Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart). Content to hide out and lay low, he is forced back into action when a young girl very much like him crosses his path.
The dark tone works well, and the higher rating allows Logan to finally cut loose on screen, proving that he is the best he is at what he does, and it ain’t pretty. A great send off for Jackman and the character and the best X-movie of them all? I think so.
3. Thor: Ragnarok
Chris Hemsworth’s third outing as the Asgardian Avenger is his best. Just fun from the jump with familiar faces alongside some cool new characters. I wrote about it here.
2. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Marvel’s misfits return for a second adventure which matches their arrival. The wisecracking anti-heroes explore Peter Quill’s (Chris Pratt) past and evade numerous foes. Hugely entertaining, it also packs an emotional punch near the end and having rewatched on telly my admiration only growns. One of Marvel’s best, you can read my original thoughts here.
Christopher Nolan delivers a war movie which is amazingly tense and in many ways understated. There are no gung ho heroics, just regular men desperately trying to survive. The cast is superb and the chronological shuffling heightens the tension and allows us to see different aspects. It’s not fun, as it’s far too intense for that but it is excellent filmmaking. Review.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.
I have mixed feelings about the current trend Disney have for live action remakes of their animated movies. While The Jungle Book worked for me, I was less fussed on Cinderella and Maleficent, and the fact that a live action Dumbo is on the way fills me with dread, although as I am soon to marry a Disney addict I have resigned myself to my fate. Taking on one of the studios best efforts was a big gamble, but thankfully this one pays off.
The story is simple enough, a vain and selfish Prince (Dan Stevens) refuses to help an old woman shelter from the rain but it turns out she is actually a powerful enchantress. She curses him by turning him into a beast, and he will remain a monster until he learns to love and wins the love of another. The enchantress also curses all the residents of the castle turning them into objects related to their jobs, which seems a bit harsh and if the Beast doesn’t succeed in finding a love before the last petal falls from a magic rose they will become inanimate objects for good and he will remain a beast for ever.
Years later we meet Belle (Emma Watson), an intelligent and free spirited young woman who lives in the nearest town. The locals aren’t too sure about her, regarding her love of reading and individuality as peculiar, nonetheless her beauty has caught the attention of Gaston (Luke Evans), the local hero who is a vain, self centred braggart. She spurns his advances and dreams of there being more to life. Her father, Maurice (Kevin Kline), is a maker of clockwork machines and leaves to sell them at market, however, on the road back he is waylaid and finds a mysterious, crumbling castle. He attempts to take a rose for his daughter but is imprisoned.
Belle sets off to find him, and arrives at the castle, where concerned for her father’s health she volunteers to take his place. Maurice’s claims are dismissed in town, although Gaston sees an opportunity to exploit the situation.
Meanwhile, at the castle Belle befriends the Beast’s cursed servants and slowly begins to discover there is more to the Beast. Similarly, her presence serves to quell his anger and he begins to care for his hostage. Their relationship, encouraged by the servants strengthens but Belle misses her father and when she becomes aware of his troubles is upset. The Beast allows her to leave.
Will Belle be able to save her father? Will she return to the castle? What will Gaston do when he discovers the existence of the beast? And will the curse ever be broken?
This remake works for same reasons that the updated version of The Jungle Book did, by honouring the original through the use of certain aspects, but by giving characters a different spin and adding new touches. Characters like Maurice, Gaston and his sidekick La Fou (Josh Gad) are given more background and are slightly more complex.
Maurice is the best example, with Kevin Kline moving away from the clownish, mad-inventor of the animated version to create a sadder figure. Belle’s mother is long deceased at the start and his grief is evident throughout, and the backstory adds more emotion to the tale. Also, his character here rings truer with the clever, independent young woman he has raised.
But despite this the main strength is the magical, charming romance at the centre and here credit goes to the leads. Emma Watson is perfectly cast as Belle, and does a great job of making her a likeable, strong character. Belle is a great heroine, free thinking and brave, she nobly sacrifices herself for her father and faces the Beast fearlessly. Throughout she shows strength, intelligence and kindness.
She handles the singing wonderfully, and is utterly charming throughout. Similarly Dan Stevens’ vocal work as the beautifully realised Beast is expressive enough for it to work, conveying the feelings that develop between them.
The central romance unfolds at a decent pace, and the film benefits from giving the Beast more backstory beyond that he was just a bit of a wanker. It also explains why the rest of the castle don’t hate him, feeling partly responsible for failing in to raise him to be a good man.
One thing the film does well is quickly cover up some of the plot holes from the original, like the fact that the town seem oblivious to the giant castle mere miles away, with the enchantress having cast a spell for them to forget all about it and the people are there. This also means there is a nice touch of when the mob storms the castle some feel deja vu and one of the villagers always has a sense of having lost something, it being revealed it is the loved ones he had at the castle…
These changes are well done and mostly serve to make the film play better as a live action piece as a straight adaptation might have suffered in translation. But there are plenty of moments that are retained, notably in costume and music. The ballroom scene in the original is an iconic scene and was groundbreaking for the time, and it helps that the castle is just as beautiful here and that the dance scene is one of the most moving moments in the film. The song remains an absolute wonder, and the scene is magical, prompting one small child in the cinema to actually cheer and applaud at the end.
Other scenes are translated to varying degrees of success, the swagger of “Gaston” is a standout here, especially as fresh jokes are added and Josh Gad is brilliant as Le Fou. Luke Evans as well impresses, capturing the strutting, arrogant character wonderfully even though he isn’t roughly the size of a barge. While Evans is reliable as ever, I left the film suspecting that Dwayne Johnson would have been brilliant for the part, especially if he channeled the charismatic arrogance of his wrestling days.
However, for me “Be Our Guest” didn’t match the original, and Ewan McGregor’s Lumiere wasn’t half as charming as Jerry Orbach’s and the character design for him and Ian McKellen’s Cogsworth were made a bit too “realistic” and a lot less endearing or friendly looking than their animated counterparts.
Similarly Mrs Potts isn’t quite as cute as her old self, but is voiced by the ever excellent Emma Thompson, who takes over from Angela Lansbury and does a stellar job.
But these are minor quibbles and the movie does well in bringing new things to the table. There is a new musical number, performed by the Beast that is genuinely moving and as I mentioned earlier the characters and some story aspects are changed. The fact that the servants are becoming increasingly inanimate is a heartbreaking touch, with them all moving towards losing their humanity. In fact a sequence where they are transformed is an emotional gut punch that had my eyes a little watery.
Before it’s release a lot was made of the fact that Le Fou was being turned into a gay character. The fact is that Josh Gad’s character is far more complicated than the original and his sexuality is only a part of that. Le Fou is loyal and clearly in love with Gaston, but it is suggested that the two have been together a long time, having served together in an unspecified war. Le Fou’s admiration for his friend is clear, but what is a nice addition is the fact that he is not just a dimwit who goes along with everything. His conscience starts to peak through, and there are moments when he acts as a calming, soothing presence for Gaston, staying his hand.
As Gaston’s obsession with Belle grows and he reveals his true, selfish nature Le Fou realises he has made a mistake and tries to make it right. It’s nice that a secondary character, largely a buffoon is given a bit more depth and Gad is consistently amusing.
All in all this is a very successful film which tells a familiar story in an utterly charming way, beautiful to look at and entirely engaging. I was sucked in early on and utterly captivated, in much the way that six year old Chris was back in 1992. In fact, I’d say this packs more of an emotional punch than the original.
It’s a delight from start to finish, with the familiar and the new combining to make a film which is great in it’s own right. MWF loved it as well, so hardcore Disney fans can rest assured that it doesn’t let the house of mouse down.
Verdict: A wonderful, magical experience which uses the animated version as a jumping off point to go in new directions and add greater depth. Moving, amusing and utterly, marvelously charming. 8.5/10.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.