If you haven’t heard by now Disney’s Dumbo is soaring into theaters March 29th. For those less acquainted with the old time favorite, Dumbo centers around a young circus elephant taunted for his large ears.
First, his cruel owners separate him from his protective mom. Next, they force him to perform dangerous circus acts. Yet, in spite of all the misfortunes, Dumbo gets his happy ending! After he discovers he can fly he becomes a circus sensation. And of course, he reunites with his mom.
Last week I got to watch the live action version as well as attend its press junket at LA’s Beverly Hilton. Those invited were welcomed by Dumbo themed goodies and got a chance to check out the film’s beautiful costumes.
The event, moderated by Grae Drake, provided journalists with an in-depth insight about the project and its challenges. The creators attending were director Tim Burton, producers Justin Springer, Derek Frey, Katterli Frauenfelder, composer Danny Elfman, costume designer Colleen Atwood, production designer Rick Heinrichs, and producer/screenwriter Ehren Kruger.
The cast included Michael Keaton (“V.A. Vandevere”), Colin Farrell (“Holt Farrier”), Danny DeVito (“Max Medici”), Eva Green (“Colette Marchant”), Nico Parker (“Milly Farrier”)and Finley Hobbins (Joe Farrier).
So, for all you Dumbo lovers out there, here are my top takeaways from the March 10th global press conference.
On the choice of Dumbo
The first question on most minds including mine was why the creators decided to choose Dumbo as their next project.
Tim Burton “… I just liked, the idea of a flying elephant and the character that doesn’t quite fit into the world. How somebody with a disadvantage makes it an advantage. It just felt very close to the way I felt about things. It was just a very pure simple image. Like all the old Disney fables (it) had that kind of simple symbolism for real emotions.
(Moreover, I liked )… the human parallel story. This character Holy who comes back from a war. He’s trying to find his place in the world. And all of the characters actually are in that way. They want to be something. Every character in it. Everybody is trying to find their place in the world…”
Derek Frey “Dumbo is one of the original outsiders in a way. And Tim’s films are populated with outsider characters….It’s almost like Dumbo is almost like a personification of himself in a way which is interesting. “
“And I think a lot of the themes in the story …are universal. It’s about family, believing in yourself, overcoming judgment and people looking at you in a certain way. Dumbo is kind of a bullied character. I know that’s something that we’re dealing with socially right now.”
Ehren Kruger “ …Dumbo (is ) a universal character and a universally loved character. Everyone sees themselves in the story of a character who has self-doubt, who has flaws, …has this mouse inside them telling them, maybe you’re more than that.”
Reimagining the storyline
Converting a world war II 64 min cartoon into a modern day, live action movie took a lot of imagination and hard work. Again we were all interested to hear more about the creators and actors experiences while making this movie.
Tim Burton “Dumbo, it’s a weird story about weird family. And because it’s like a weird elephant, I had one thing in the back of my mind. All the people had to look kind of weird.”
“…The biggest challenge I guess was you have all these people. You have amazing sets, Colleen, Rick, the art director. Amazing. The only thing that’s missing is the main character. That’s a very, very unnerving thing to kind of be going into something and you know what you want. You know what you’re trying to go for. You can even see rough animation. But until it materializes, you just don’t know. “
Staying true to the original
As a Disney fan, I love all the classics, so I hoped that the new one would keep at least have some elements of its unique charm. And much to my delight, it did!
Rick Heinrichs“…We tried to put our heads into that place at the original story men, and animators and artists put themselves into. …Tim never wants to tell a history story. He’s trying to tell an emotional story and an expressive one certainly. So our job was always to make sure that it felt right. “
Ehren Kruger“…I tried to get to that place of what are the core things that I associate with this… story. I Just wanted to honor the original. …(It) felt organic to the story to let Dumbo be a classic Charlie Chaplin Buster Keaton-esque expressive silent film performer…”
Adding Burton-esque touches
Before the preview, I couldn’t wrap my mind around how Tim Burton’s cinematic gothic style could blend with the sweet pachyderm saga from the ’40s. Surprisingly the creators managed to make it work! The movie balances beautifully between its fable-like storyline and dark fantasy appearance.
Rick Heinrichs “We wanted a complete immersive level of believability, credibility to the characters and the environments. At the same time, we wanted that special something that hallmarks a Tim Burton film of stylization and caricature and satire and pushing elements a little bit.”
Katterli Frauenfelder“ …I think the idea of creating a world (that) bridges between fantasy and reality and …combines five circuses …was a huge challenge. It started with Tim’s sketches, which everything starts from. And it was a lot of work. Everybody was involved. Rick, Richard Stammers. But basically, it was Tim’s eye that kept evolving towards how he wanted to see Dumbo. He didn’t want a photo real character. ”
If you like the Baby Mine song, then you’ll be delighted to know it is still there. However, the rest aren’t and that’s ok. Thanks to composer Danny Elfman there is so much more to listen to!
Danny Elfman “…I didn’t know a lot about Dumbo. I didn’t see it as a kid. (But) I remember that baby elephant loses his mom.
(So) When I wrote Dumbo’s theme, I wrote it as a bittersweet, sad theme. This is our 17th film. And I still never know what to expect from Tim at all. His mind is strange and interesting…(Tim’s request was) …to make sure that Dumbo soars!”
As usual, the junket ended with the almost obligatory question: What is the movie’s message? The short answer is just like its original version this one too celebrates diversity.
As Eva Green so eloquently summarized it “… I think everybody has felt at some point kind of a bit strange or different. It’s just such a wonderful movie because it has that message of it’s okay to be strange or different. we just have to embrace our uniqueness…”
Follow DUMBO on social media!
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/dumbo/Visit the official DUMBO website here: https://disney.com/dumbo
DUMBO opens in theatres everywhere on March 29th!
Disclaimer: Special thanks to Disney Studios for hosting me on the press junket event. My opinions are my own and cannot be influenced in any way