To celebrate the release of Tim Burton's live-action Dumbo remake, Screen Rant's Ryan George takes us back to the 1940s to reveal what (probably) happened in the pitch meeting for the animated original.
Dumbo was released in 1941, overseen by supervising director Ben Sharpsteen, and intended as a simple and cheap movie that could recoup some of the studio's money after Fantasia turned out to be a financial flop. Fantasia had been years in development, but after production got underway, something rather unfortunate happened: Adolf Hitler invaded Poland. The ensuing war in Europe naturally took a toll on the box office that heavily impacted Fantasia, and Disney needed a quick, inexpensive film to turn things around.
What we're trying to say here is that the actual pitch meeting for Dumbo involved a lot of stern instructions from the studio not to spend too much money. The resulting film was only 64 minutes long, but its simple tale of an elephant mother's love for her big-eared offspring and a downtrodden baby elephant learning how to fly won audiences over, and Dumbo became Disney's biggest box office hit of the decade. Fast-forward to the 2010s, and Disney was dipping back into the pool of its most beloved animated movies to give them the remake treatment.
Burton's Dumbo fleshes out the story, introducing Michael Keaton as greedy amusement park mogul V. A. Vandevere, who persuades circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) to agree to an acquisition, only to then reveal he was only interested in Medici's flying elephant. Once the circus has been merged into Vandevere's own attraction, Dreamland, Vandevere callously fires all of the circus performers except for Dumbo. All of which is a little bit awkward considering that Disney just bought 20th Century Fox for $71 billion and is now in the process of shutting down smaller labels like Fox 2000 and laying off employees. Whoops.
Still, even if Disney's live-action remake of Dumbo is getting mixed reviews and has a plot that is accidentally a scathing critique of Disney's own business practices, we'll always have the 1941 original. Watching Dumbo is a way to return to a sweeter and more innocent time. As long as you ignore all the casual racism. And don't try to unravel that nightmarish pink elephants on parade sequence.