review for Big Fish on AllMovie

Big Fish (2003)
by Michael Hastings review

It makes sense that, after playing director-for-hire on the widely-derided-yet-somehow-successful 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes, Tim Burton would want to downshift, regroup, and shift his attentions to a low-key, character-driven heart-tugger of a script -- albeit one that would still allow him to doodle in the margins with his patented flights of visual whimsy. Unfortunately, John August's adaptation of Daniel Wallace's Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions isn't quite that project. Burton's never had the ability to fully overcome weak material -- no matter how hard he may try -- and Big Fish is no exception. It's clear that Burton has more interest in visualizing the lush, meandering yarn-spinning of the elder Ed Bloom (Albert Finney, played in his youth by a buoyant Ewan McGregor) than he does in dramatizing the alienation of his son William (a humorless Billy Crudup), and that imbalance hamstrings the picture. As sumptuous as some of the fantastical vignettes may be, their vague symbolism and general pointlessness grows tiring; Burton was able to pack more philosophical weight into Pee-Wee's search for his lost bicycle than he can into an aging man's need to hyperbolize away his deadbeat-dad status. That said, there are sequences that make the film worthwhile: a loopy, vibrant WWII adventure that suggests the pulpy genius of mid-'70s Spielberg or the interlude which casts Bloom as a harebrained inventor -- one of Burton's pet obsessions. The Fellini-esque ending might activate a tear duct or two, but ultimately, Big Fish's emotion feels curiously unearned.