"The Flagship Film Podcast"

“The flagship film podcast” featuring in-depth reviews, top 5 lists and interviews.

"Dumbo" Excerpt

Josh: Yes, Tim Burton is back, taking another very familiar property and giving it the special Burton touch. I guess we can debate how special that touch still is, Michael. He's done this a couple of times now in his career. The property here is 1941's animated film, "Dumbo," from Disney. The twist this time? Well, there's not really much of one. Screenwriter Ehren Kruger essentially spends the first 45 minutes of this, "Dumbo," which is live action — very heavy on CGI obviously, especially when it comes to the title character — but he spends the first 45 minutes essentially giving us the original movie. We march through the beats with a few twists here and there, foremost among them a new character played by Colin Farrell, a returning World War I vet that previously worked at the circus, run by Danny DeVito as ringmaster. His name is Holt Ferrier. He went off to war, has come back, lost an arm in the conflict also lost his wife while he was away. We learned she died from the flu. 

Michael Phillips: The influenza epidemic of 1919. 

Josh: Yes, as did many of the other members of this circus troupe. She left behind two young children who are there waiting for his return. So this broken family is at the heart of the story and an obvious mirror, of course, to the baby elephant who is born and separated from his mother, "Dumbo." Now, Michael, we came out of this screening and I don't think... As opposed to last week where Adam and I had not very long to process Jordan Peele's, "Us," and we panicked a little bit under that pressure. You and I are also coming from the screening. I don't think we feel quite the same pressure to figure "Dumbo," out as quickly. And as a matter of fact, you seemed pretty decisive. We were riding the elevator with a couple of people who were in the screening, and one of them just asked you, "Did you like it?" And you offered a very emphatic, "No.". 

Michael: No. [Laughs

Josh: Care to elaborate? 

Michael: [Laughs] I think that's it speaks for itself, Josh. 

Josh: That's all you can have to say! 

Michael: Can we please move on to the next segment? 

Josh: Let's give it a little more time. 

Michael: [Laughs] OK, we'll go on. 

Josh: I will try to, uh, I don't know if I will say I'm going to offer a defense of, "Dumbo," but I will try to highlight maybe a few grace notes that will leaven that emphatic, "No.". 

Michael: Righto. Good. 

Josh: Tell me your first reaction. 

Michael: There's lots to talk about, because we should figure out why some of these animation-to-live-action adaptations that Disney has got in its pipeline — I mean, my God, we're we're going to be riddled with these. The next two up are Guy Ritchie's version of, "Aladdin," which to me, the idea of Guy Ritchie doing "Aladdin..." 

Josh: Seems a little strange. 

Michael: A little, eh... Probably my least favorite director alive right now. But who knows, who knows? You know, hope springs occasional. 

Josh: Yes, this is true. 

Michael: And then beyond that? "The Lion King," [by] Jon Favreau, who actually scored a pretty solid success, and a huge financial success, with his live action version of "The Jungle Book." He's got "The Lion King" coming up this summer. They've done several already they have a dozen more — literally, almost a dozen in the pipeline, including everything from "Mulan" to who knows what. And here we have Tim Burton giving "Dumbo" a shot. Now, I would disagree with you on whether or not it really bears almost any resemblance to the old 1941 animated version. Just factually, before we get into opinion — this movie is twice as long. Dumbo ran 62-63 minutes. There was basically a musical. It had six or seven songs — good ones, that you hear [in this version] here in there. "Baby Mine," gets a gets a good, prominent place. 

Josh: Not a highlight. 

Michael: I never liked that song anyway. So, you have twice the length. It's not really a musical anymore, and then just in terms of story description — I'm keeping the opinion out of it for now. I'm trying to lean my case factually OK? — No talking animals this time. You don't have the wisecracking sort of Brooklyn-ese mouse whose was Dunbar's main friend. And in the old 41. 

Josh: There's some misdirection there we see a mouse early on. Turns out it doesn't talk and isn't really a major character. 

Michael: No, they don't talk. One of the big changes though, Josh — and I seriously think the movie wrestles with this in all the wrong ways — how do you make a movie about trained circus elephants at a time when Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey have been shut down or out of business? — and I'm fine with that, because of all the animal abuse or whatever a PETA and everybody else has been sort of charging circuses with for decades now. All that's all that's belongs to a very different time, and this story remains set in the past. In fact, further back than the 1941 version, because it is, as you say, right after World War I. How do you deal with this whole question of captive circus elephants without just sort of making it seem like utter cruelty? Now that may sound a liberal weenie whining or something like that, but this movie, I guess, honestly or somewhat sincerely tries to wrestle with this question — how are you going to retell this story that way? And then, as you say, the main inventions — and there's a ton of them, because it's all these new characters that were introduced by the screenwriter Ehren Kruger for this version. We have we have DeVito's circus people, a kind of motley multi-ethnic crew. You have Michael Keaton as the sort of proto-Walt Disney, who's got this huge Coney Island sort of circus —not a circus attraction, but an amusement park that's called Dreamland that really is meant to evoke this weird steampunk – early 20th century version of the later 20th century Disneyland and Disney World right. And of course, he's the main adversary in this story. So you have you have all this new stuff, and I would say every single one of those decisions just, for me, is a compilation of story misjudgments. 

Josh: Doesn't add up to anything. 

Michael: Nothing! 


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