Following certain movie podcasts leads one down some strange allies. My most recent detour from my usual movie meanderings was the recent reboot of Dumbo, chosen for a combination of a showtime to burn on my MoviePass and my following the podcast Blank Check and their miniseries on the career of Tim Burton (the dire warnings about my other reboot option factored as well).
The movie is a strange combination of a rushed retelling of the original Disney story – already a padded 70 minutes – and an off-book plot about Dumbo and his circus friends selling out to a giant theme park headed by a single visionary. It’s hard not to read the second half as a secret critique/cry for help from within the Disney empire. The resulting film is both as unnecessary as one might expect but containing keyhole glimpses of a more active mind.
Griffin Newman of Blank Check aptly describes Tim Burton as a sort of “My First Auteur” kit – a director whose style is so obviously distinct from movie to movie that even a young or nascent film buff can use his filmography to gain an understanding as to what a director adds to the text. The Burton aesthetic eventually drowned anything else Burton might have been bringing to the picture, and now in Dumbo it appears to be restrained for corporate purposes. Still, there’s some life to the latter half which is less beholden to the original animated Dumbo (still a far weirder film that Burton’s) suggesting it might not be possible to completely keep the lumbering elephant that Burton’s style become from soaring for short periods.
We’re in a world that still believes in auteur theory and is gripped by IP-mania. What reboots, remakes, and reimaginings are particularly suited to the strong hand of an auteur? Can bald back catalog cash-grabs ever become grist for more singular visionaries? David Cronenberg’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame? Sofia Coppola’s The Little Mermaid? Gasper Noe’s Fantasia?