Dumbo star Colin Farrell says director Tim Burton's live-action movie isn't really a remake of Disney's animated film and features a "completely new narrative". The original animated film came out in 1941 and is the latest in a growing collection of classic hand-drawn Disney features to be reimagined with live-action and CGI. Funnily enough, it was Burton's Alice in Wonderland that started this trend in 2010. Since then, the Mouse House has churned out several more live-action remakes of its animated classics, including Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast.
However, in some of these cases, the term "re-imagining" is more applicable than "remake". Maleficent, for example, is a live-action/CGI Sleeping Beauty retelling, but goes in a completely different direction than Disney's animated version of the fairy tale does. Other movies, like Beauty and the Beast, stick pretty closely to their animated predecessors, save for an additional scene or an alternate musical number here and there. This brings us to Dumbo, which strays pretty far from the plot for its animated predecessor - enough so that, in some ways, it's practically an original story.
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When we interviewed Farrell during our visit to the Dumbo set in London, the actor explained that Burton's film is very different from the cartoon version, as far as plot goes. At the same time, though, Farrell offered his assurances that the core messages have been carried over:
Totally, yeah. I will say that the lads did an incredible job of - Justin, Ehren, and whoever else was involved; obviously Tim is heavily involved in the working of the script and modifying it - but, yeah, it's a completely new narrative. And the one central thing that holds true in both the original animation, the original cartoon, and this is the flying elephant and the story of, you know, believing in yourself and finding something inside you that allows you to become the best version of what you thought you could even be, and that we're all, regardless of the things that sometimes society says, should arrive us at being outcasts; they're the things that make us all individual, special, and beautiful regardless of how crippling a certain thing may be or how polarizing a certain physical attribute even may be.
Indeed, where the animated Dumbo only had one main human character (the cruel ringmaster), the live-action version features several human leads. In fact, the movie follows a small family - former circus star Holt Farrier (Farrell) and his children Milly (Nico Parker) and Joe (Finley Hobbins) - who come to care for the titular elephant, after Holt secures a new job working for his old circus boss, Max Medici (Danny DeVito). The change makes sense from a logistical perspective; the animated Dumbo was told exclusively from the perspective of its animal characters, most of whom could talk. Burton's movie, on the other hand, won't feature any talking animals at all, which is why it's necessary for the humans to be more developed and involved in the narrative than they were in the cartoon version.
In a way, these changes are immediately for the better. The animated Dumbo includes some rather problematic characters informed by racist stereotypes (namely, the Jim Crows), so the live-action movie will be able by get around that and update things by simply not having any animals talk at all. Beyond that, the cartoon Dumbo only runs 64 minutes long and ends up with Dumbo flying for the first time, making for a simple if slight story. In order to fill things out to a modern feature-length running time, the live-action movie will carry on well beyond the scene where Dumbo soars for the first time and introduce a whole new plot thread involving an entrepreneur (Michael Keaton) who wants to make Dumbo part of his new business venture, Dreamland. That alone is a far cry from anything in the animated film before it.
- Dumbo (2019) release date: Mar 29, 2019