FlixChatter Review: DUMBO (2019)

It seems that every year now we’ll be treated to a live action of Disney’s animated movies. Now, I actually quite like Cinderella, Beauty & The Beast, Jungle Book, and I’m curiously anticipating Aladdin. As for Dumbo, I actually don’t remember much of the original. I only watched a scene of Dumbo and his mother in the Baby, Mine sequence. As for Tim Burton, I haven’t seen the last few films he’s done, including Alice in Wonderland which doesn’t appeal to me at all.

This movie doesn’t have talking animals nor musical numbers. The screenplay by Ehren Kruger is an expanded version of the 1941 animated version that’s now told from the human characters. The circus is intact of course, this time it’s called Medici Circus, owned by Max Medici (Danny DeVito). Soon we see Holt Farrier (Colin Farrell) coming back from the war. Once a circus star, he’s now missing an arm and his wife (also a former circus star) has died of Spanish Flu, leaving him with his two kids Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins). Holt gets demoted to caring for the upcoming baby elephant, which later becomes known as Dumbo.

One thing the movie gets right is the titular little elephant itself. Dumbo is utterly adorable – from the moment we saw him buried under a pile of hay, the large-eared CGI elephant immediately won my heart. A ‘face only a mother could love,’ Max Medici said, he couldn’t be more wrong. Milly and Joe were immediately taken by Dumbo as well, even more so when his mother was sold off to recoup a loss of a tragic incident. The devastating separation scene pierced my heart. I have similar experience when I was sent to a boarding school at the age of 7 and had to be separated from my own mother whom I didn’t see until two weeks later.

The villain of the movie comes in the form of Michael Keaton‘s Vandevere who buys Medici Circus upon learning of the flying elephant. His Disneyland-type, vas amusement park called Dreamland, with attractions like Nightmare Island, Wonders of Science, etc. It’s no surprise that the huge park is filled with dark secrets. Keaton is especially hammy here, but his character wasn’t given much to do. In fact, DeVito, Keaton and Alan Arkin‘s characters are basically just stock characters. They have no real arc at all, basically just caricatures of a circus owner, an opportunistic entrepreneur and a powerful banker, respectively. I have to say the timing for this movie is quite interesting. Its blatant message against corporate conglomeration/industry domination coming out just a week after the announcement of Disney buying out 20th Century Fox isn’t lost on me.

I feel like Colin Farrell‘s Holt is the only character resembling a real person and is someone actually worth rooting for. Eva Green is perfectly cast as trapeze artist Colette, offering her usual sexy mystique but this time with motherly touches. Nico Parker‘s young scientist aspiring to be Marie Curie message of feminism is quite on-the-nose, but she is pretty good role model for young girls. There’s also a fine message about not relying on certain ‘crutches’ to achieve big things, as Dumbo couldn’t fly initially without the prompting of a feather.

Burton’s visual flair and his imaginative mind seems perfect to helm this live-action adaptation. Aided by his longtime Burton-collaborators Danny Elfman (music) and Colleen Atwood (costume design), it’s indeed a gorgeous movie. I’d say the darker stuff is to be expected, but it’s nothing that would really scare off young children. Ultimately, in order for the movie to work, it has to convince us that an elephant can fly. The movie delivers in that regard. I enjoy all the flying sequences, especially towards the end when Dumbo flies over Cooney Island. I also love the scene where the little elephant was in a trance watching a circus act making giant balloon bubbles.

Just like its protagonist that keeps stumbling on its large ears, the movie doesn’t always get every step right either. The first half hour feels a bit sluggish, while the fiery finale seems too grandiose for its own good. I think Burton fans might complain that the movie isn’t weird or bizarre enough. I’d say for a Tim Burton movie about circuses that inherently celebrates eccentricities, this is a pretty safe one. But as a feel-good family film, I think it’s still pretty enjoyable. Is this movie necessary? Well no, but neither is any of the live action adaptations Disney’s been making. I personally would rather see more original stories being made, but judging this for what it is, I’d say it still merits a recommendation.


Have you seen DUMBO? I’d love to hear what you think!

Merry Christmas! Reminiscing on the alternative Christmas classic: Batman Returns

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It’s December 25 and I thought I’d take the time to wish you all a wonderful Christmas… wherever you are. It’s not quite a White Christmas here in Minnesota. The snow that’s supposed to hit us today seems to have shift to Friday, which is a bummer as for once I don’t mind having a snowy Christmas day as I don’t have to travel anywhere. It’s been a while since we actually have a truly mellow Christmas where we get to relax at home, eat home-cooked meal and watch movies in the comfort of our own home.

After church on Christmas eve, we wanted to see a Christmas-themed movie. At first we’re going to see Bill Murray’s Scrooged, but ended up rewatching Tim Burton’s 1992 Batman Returns, as this TOR.com blog cleverly dubbed …‘Twas the Dark Knight Before Christmas...

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Hey, even Alfred’s getting into the Christmas spirit putting up the Christmas tree in the Wayne Mansion whilst Bruce snuggles up by the fire. It’s the calm before the storm, as it were. The real action begins as soon as miss Selina Kyle enters the picture…

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(although a kiss can be even deadlier if you mean it…)

I had seen it ages ago but I couldn’t remember much of the details other than Michelle Pfeiffer‘s stunning and iconic portrayal as Catwoman. She still is one of the best things about this film, and I don’t think anyone’s topped her performance yet in that role [sorry Anne Hathaway, you’re good but not THAT good].

The Christmas setting in Gotham City is gorgeous to look at and definitely got me a bit nostalgic of spending time in New York City last year.

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The festive Christmas lighting ceremony in Gotham Plaza is basically modeled after the giant tree in Rockeffeler Center, and there’s even that lavish holiday masked ball where Bruce Wayne gets to slow dance with Selina Kyle and discovering who their real identities are.

Keaton and Pfeiffer had quite a scorching chemistry, more so than Christian Bale did with any of his female co-stars. It’s a complicated and ultimately doomed relationship that’s beguiling and surprisingly emotional.

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“Does this mean we have to start fighting?”

Tons of great performances too, Danny Devito is effectively creepy yet funny as Oswald Cobblepot aka The Penguin, and Christopher Walken is always fun to watch as the slimy businessman Max Shreck. Danny Elfman‘s score is absolutely terrific, too, I should feature it in the next Music Break 😉

Though I’ve come to love Nolan’s Batman’s trilogy that’s more solemn and realistic, I have to admit I enjoyed Burton’s decidedly more circus-y and theatrical approach. Glad I rewatched this tonight, Batman Returns is definitely a fun albeit bizarre alternative Christmas flick if you’re not in the mood to watch It’s A Wonderful Life for the zillionth time. Though the story may be dark and even tragic, I wouldn’t call it an anti-Christmas movie. In fact, the finale ends on a hopeful note, with a subtle hint that the Christmas spirit isn’t entirely lost on them …

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Good will toward men… and women.


So folks, once again I wish you a MERRY & BLESSED CHRISTMAS.
What’ll you be watching this Christmas break?

Weekend Roundup: Oz The Great and Powerful review

It’s the last week of March already, but Spring is arriving VERY s-l-o-w-l-y here in Minnesota. By around the same time last year, we’re already in mid 60s, I think some people were wearing shorts on St. Patrick’s Day? This year, I’d be thrilled to see mid 40s by next weekend!

I did see a movie that made me feel quite Spring-y with the bright and colorful landscape filled with gorgeous colors and of course, a rainbow!

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If you’re curious whether people who have not seen the original would enjoy this prequel, well I for one can tell you that YES, absolutely you could! In a way I feel that I actually have the advantage of knowing hardly anything of the story, apart from what the wicked witch look like and knowing some of the lyrics of Somewhere Over the Rainbow. You might be amused that the only time I heard this song being played in a movie is from John Woo’s action-packed Face/Off, ahah.

My friend asked me if I wanted to see a matinee showing and I went in with tepid expectations after reading the mediocre reviews. Well, I’m glad to report that I was NOT disappointed. Far from it, it really was a wonderful 2-hour escapist entertainment!

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First of all, the opening title sequence is one of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s so beautiful and creative, definitely brings you right into the carnival world where Oscar works as a small time magician with dubious ethics. He soon gets into trouble, which leads him to a hot air balloon that transports him away from Kansas to the colorful Land of Oz. The movie turns from black and white to color and oh, what a feast for the eyes. I was truly mesmerized by the beauty of Oz. Sam Raimi truly turns the movie magic on with this one, I was practically ooh-aah-ing the gorgeous cinematography, special effects and spectacular landscape. Every creature is pretty amusing to look at, yes even the weird ones like the river fairies!

In this magical land is where Oscar meets the three witches: Theodora (Mila Kunis), Evanora (Rachel Weisz), and Glinda (Michelle Williams), who are all skeptical that he’s the great wizard everyone’s been waiting for. Oscar himself didn’t really want to continue deceiving them at first, that is until Evanora shows him all the gold he’d have if he becomes King. The inner struggle of choosing good over evil is something we’ve all identified with, and Oscar soon realized how high the stakes are for the people of Oz, though we’re never sure of his true motive until the very end.

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I’ve told you about the visuals, now acting-wise, I still think Johnny Depp would’ve been much better in the role of Oscar Diggs instead of James Franco, but he ends up being all right here. I know his character is supposed to be this egotistical smug, but Franco plays it far to literally that he comes across annoying instead of amusing. He has this weird, awkward grin that made me cringe, it just took me out of the movie as I wanted to smack him! I also don’t buy him as this irresistible man who could get all these stunning women to fall in love with him. Fortunately he redeemed himself as the film progresses, in fact I think he was quite good in the touching scene with the China Doll.  His fun companies on his journey on the yellow brick road certainly helps, I love Finley the flying monkey (voiced by Zach Braff) and China Girl (voiced by Joey King) who both owed their lives to Oscar.

The real stars of the film for me are the spectacular visuals and the three female actresses. It’s inspired casting to get Kunis and Weisz as sisters as they have similar features. Both look ravishing in their costumes, especially Weisz in the sparkly, feathered black frock. One particular scenes of them together is crucial to the story and I think both actresses acquit themselves well, though I can’t speak for fans of the original on this one. In contrast, Williams projects delicate beauty as the good witch Glinda. She practically looks like a cross between Sleeping Beauty’s Aurora and Cinderella in her silky white dress and crystal tiara. People might say it’s a boring role as she’s good through and through, but Williams is so effortlessly sympathetic and she did her best with what she was given.

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I find the story to be quite absorbing and even hilarious at times. I could see how the L. Frank Baum’s cretion has become a pop-culture phenomenon, not only with the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, but also the smash hit Broadway play Wicked. One of the primary keys to a great tale is memorable characters, and this movie is full of them. The wicked witch and how she became that way is certainly the main draw, but the supporting characters are entertaining as well. Finley delivers a lot of laughs, the scene of him mooing had me in stitches. Though I’ve never been into dolls, China Girl is so adorable and cute I wish I could take her home for myself!! The citizens of Oz are full of quirky bunch as well, though I had the same reaction as Oscar when the munchkins started to burst into song, ahah. Ah well, this is a Disney movie after all.

Danny Elfman‘s beautiful score definitely helps transport you into another world. I really think Raimi and co did a great job here, and perhaps the fact that I couldn’t compare it to the original gives the film an advantage. But I wonder if having seen the original would make me like this less, I don’t know if that’d be the case.

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Final Thoughts: If you want to lose yourself in a fantastical world for two hours on Sunday afternoon, you could do a lot worse. I was massively entertained and the few corny scenes (those romantic scenes between Franco & Kunis came to mind) did not derail the film for me. I didn’t see the 3D version and whilst I thought the visuals was still splendid in that format, I’d think the 3D version would’ve been worth it for this one.


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Thoughts on this one? Anyone else love it as much as I did?