Tim Burton has had a stellar career as a Director. Hits such as his ‘Batman’ films, ‘Beetlejuice’ and scores of others have cemented his place in modern cinema history. Where he works best is in developing his own stories with his unique visual flair and also embellishing other classic tales. ‘Dumbo’ finds him walking a safe path with a story based on the 1941 classic Disney animated film. His strengths in crafting dazzling visions is still evident with ‘Dumbo’ sure to appeal to those allowing themselves to be free of adult cynicism.

Although injured during battle in World War 1, Holt (Colin Farrell) eagerly returns to the circus run by Max (Danny DeVito). With a wife and young children to look after, Holt dives into his job as caretaker with gusto. When a baby elephant is born, his world is turned upside down when he discovers it can fly via its huge ears. Named Dumbo, the elephant captures the imagination of circus-goers as well as the attention of nefarious entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton). Rapidly events spin out of control as Dumbo’s presence causes as much mayhem as any spirited circus act.

‘Dumbo’ is a lesser piece of the Burton canon. Although serviceable as a slice of family entertainment, as a Tim Burton film it falters. This isn’t the fault of the performers who all give spirited renditions of their cartoonish characters. Keaton and Eva Green as his character’s co-conspirator-in-mischief in particular have much fun. What comes unstuck is Burton’s inability to fully put his stamp within the confines of the Disney formula. Occasionally his flair for the darkly dramatic is seen but his creative edges have been blunted in order to appease Disney’s well oiled machine.

Giving ‘Dumbo’ its visual gloss is the spectacular CGI. The rendering of Dumbo is very well realized and makes it feel like fleshed out character itself. The screenplay is fitting although it strays into mawkish sentiment too often to be totally effective. But when it dares to sour, then ‘Dumbo’ truly flies in every sense. It captures a sense of child-like wonder without being childish which is something not many do. Whilst Burton has done far better, it’s difficult to imagine any other director doing a better job with the material, so kudos to him for at least trying.

A mark of a good movie is if it stays with you after the credits roll. ‘Dumbo’ doesn’t do that but it should please undemanding viewers wanting a predictable story with little thought required. ‘Dumbo’ achieves that with the hope Tim Burton has another good movie left in him more compelling than seeing an elephant fly.

Rating out of 10: 6

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