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What Should We Expect from Tim Burton’s ‘Dumbo’?

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I’m sure you’ve heard the news by now. Tim Burton will direct a live-action remake of the 1941 animated Disney film Dumbo. What did you feel when you heard this choice of director? Or when you first heard of the idea for the remake itself? Disbelief? Fear? Intrigue? I felt all three. This comes from someone who loves Tim Burton and who loves Disney. But, is the prospect of the two colliding in this project a good idea? And what should we expect from a movie that will henceforth be known as Tim Burton’s Dumbo?

What do we know so far?

We know the film will be part live-action and part CGI. I’ll give you one guess as to which character will be computer animated. This makes me wonder what a CGI Dumbo will look like. Does anyone remember Dumbo in the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit? Dumbo’s cameo appearance was pretty much all for the sake of the joke, “He works for peanuts,” but he actually blends in fairly well in this movie. There are a few reasons for this. Our suspension of disbelief was already achieved, as the movie set up a world where Toons live amongst us. However, I believe the main reason that Dumbo fit into Who Framed Roger Rabbit so well is that he was still represented as a two-dimensional drawing. We recognize him from Disney’s animated film because he has the exact same design. But, could a CGI Dumbo look as cute and endearing as his original two-dimensional design does?

Dumbo had a cameo in a previous movie that blended live-action and animated in 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit'.

Dumbo had a cameo in a previous movie that blended live-action and animation: ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit.’

Dumbo will most likely look more like a real elephant and, as a result, our suspension of disbelief will have to be pushed a little further if we’re to accept a big-eared flying elephant in live-action. What about the other characters? In my humble opinion it would be a mistake not to include Dumbo’s supporting pal Timothy Q. Mouse. If featured, he could be similar to the mice characters in the latest live-action remake of Cinderella. These little creatures had a realistic design and yet their subtle actions every so often were human-like. Could we expect something like this in Dumbo?

The mice from the live-action ‘Cinderella’ were realistic in design but displayed human traits. A possible technique they could use in the remake of ‘Dumbo’.

The mice from Disney’s live-action ‘Cinderella’ were realistic in design, but displayed human traits. A possible technique could be used in the remake of ‘Dumbo.’

Disney and Live-action

We know there is a new surge of live-action remakes of Disney animated movies recently, but back in the day Walt Disney loved his live-action projects too. All you have to do is look at Treasure Island or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea to know the studio was more than capable of delivering spectacular – and yes, I’ll say it – live-action masterpieces. A studio has to keep on top of its game somehow. So why not utilize its previous successes, like Beauty and the Beast and Dumbo, to create something audiences are both eager to revisit and curious to rediscover?

When I imagine a live-action Dumbo movie I remember those fantastical Disney movies from the 1970s. Those comedy dramas that usually starred Dean Jones with a talking cat from outer space or a living VW Beetle. There’s also Pete’s Dragon, which has both live-action actors and a giant 2D animated dragon. But there is always something that warms your heart in these live-action Disney movies. So, it’s safe to say there will be emotional scenes as well as light-hearted moments in Dumbo. Let’s just hope Disney doesn’t reuse the “Baby Mine” song from the original movie or I’ll end up using all my tissues. Regardless of whether the song is included, can’t you just envision the “Baby Mine” scene in live-action? A scene where humans lock away the elephant mother from her baby? This is why I’m sure the remake of Dumbo will still pull at our heartstrings.

The heartbreaking scene of Dumbo and his mother being separated could be in the remake.

The heartbreaking scene in which Dumbo and his mother are separated could be in the remake.

Disney and Tim Burton

The combination of Tim Burton and Dumbo sounds more shocking than Sam Raimi directing Oz: The Great and Powerful, but it really shouldn’t. Not when one compares the controversial horror movies Raimi has made to Burton movies that are simply deemed ‘dark.’

Think about this for a moment: why does Disney keep using Burton? Let us take a look at Burton’s work at Disney to help answer this question. He worked for Disney in the 1980s on movies such as The Black Cauldron and The Fox and The Hound. Not surprisingly, the latter kind of ‘cutesy’ animation was not his forte, so he looked for other projects elsewhere. It was with the success of the live-action movies Edward Scissorhands and Batman that Disney welcomed him back to make his own stop-motion animated project in 1993. Though he did not direct The Nightmare Before Christmasthat can be credited to Henry Selick – his influence and creativity is prominent in the movie. He returned to Disney and stop-motion in 2012 for Frankenweenie, this time as director. I’m sure Disney was after another financial success similar to Nightmare, especially when it came to merchandising. But this wasn’t to be.

Unfortunately, there were more than enough Sparky plushes left in the stockroom. Frankenweenie just didn’t have the unique charm that Nightmare had. However, the film did get positive reviews and was nominated for an Oscar, so it wasn’t all bad for Burton and Disney. On the other hand, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland in 2009 was a huge success. Something about the combination of Burton’s name above that familiar story peaked audience’s interest. The story of Alice in Wonderland, even the Disney animated version from 1951, is whimsical and a little dark at times. It easily lends itself to Burton’s macabre style. This is why, when one thinks about Dumbo in the hands of Tim Burton in terms of financing, one can understand why he was chosen as the director. He has a very well known name. It’s not much of a gamble to hire him because of the basic fact that people see his movies. But from a creative standpoint, is Burton the best choice?

The Other Side of Burton

There is a lighter more child-friendly side to Burton that is actually perfect for Disney movies. I know Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a little strange and creepy at times, but can one really deny that it’s a children’s movie? I’ve never thought of that movie as too dark or creepy for kids. And it’s proof that Burton’s no stranger to the magical and surreal. But, then again, Burton always seems to know what he’s doing.

He’s not going to push a character or a certain piece of imagery so far that it will enter your nightmares for weeks, particularly in a family movie. And when I think of “the other side of Burton” I go directly to the movie Big Fish. It’s a fairytale pastoral paradise. It’s so bright and colorful at times that it could easily have been a children’s coloring book. His latest movie, Big Eyes, also strayed away from the grim and Gothic. It’s movies like these that actually make me stay positive when it comes to the Dumbo remake’s potential.

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Burton isn’t always dark and Gothic, as evident in his movie ‘Big Fish’ (above).

Whether you like them or not, remakes are a fad of our era. And whether you like his work or not, Tim Burton will continue make movies. So, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me when Tim Burton’s Dumbo was announced. If the idea worries you, then maybe – like me – you can take comfort when you remember Burton’s work on the family movie Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or the bright and fantastical Big Fish. But the big question on top of ‘what should we expect’ is actually an even more challenging one. And that question is ‘should we expect a good movie’? I’ll leave you to decided that one for yourself.

   What do you think we should expect from Tim Burton’s ‘Dumbo’? Do you love or hate the idea of live-action remake?

Edited by: Hannah Wilkes

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About MJ Edwards

MJ is a writing and film graduate who loves to relax with scented candles and herbal teas. She is a dog-walker by day and a pie-maker by night. She loves movies starring Christopher Reeve and her favorite animated film is Meet the Robinsons. MJ also loves anything that LAIKA and Tim Burton come out with.