Entertainment Affair

Tim Burton’s “Dumbo” Reboot Focuses More On Family and Less On Bullying

by Rocio Vidal | March 30, 2019

The visually spectacular Tim Burton’s live-action adventure reboot from the 1940’s “Dumbo” takes on the classic story but eulogizing our current progressions that emphasizes and encourages our differences, and that we all need to follow our dreams, but nonetheless throwing in a subtext of criticism and villainization of big companies becoming monopolies and taking the soul out of what makes us humans, the sense of family, and valuing friendships by risking everything just for the sake of the shareholders pockets.

While the 1940’s story focuses more on the bullying, the new film goes on more into the plot of reuniting Dumbo with his mamma Mrs. Jumbo. Mrs. Jumbo was a pregnant elephant that circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) acquired hoping he made a great deal by buying two elephants for the price of one. To his surprise, the baby elephant was born with oversize ears making him something more of a freak than a regular circus elephant.

With so many similarities this might be an actual stab at Disney’s Disneyland and it’s pursuit of acquiring networks and franchises in the past years. But Burton is keen to bring on something to strike people and maybe be controversial as he’s not one to be a cookie cutter and follow paradigms.

At the first part of a recent press conference, to talk about bringing the famous baby elephant to the big screen back again was Screenwriter Ehren Kruger, Producer Justin Springer, Producer Derek Frey, Producer Katterli Frauenfelde, Production Designer Rick Heinrichs, Costume Designer Colleen Atwood, and Composer Danny Elfman.

Producer Derek Frey talks about reimagining “Dumbo” after almost 80 years of the original: “It just seemed like a story that could be expanded upon–the original’s 63 minutes, and Tim was aware that technology had reached a point where you could successfully render an elephant into a live-action environment.

“…Dumbo is one of the original outsiders, in a way, and Tim’s films are populated with outsider characters. So, I think for Tim, it was a combination of knowing the technology was there to render this character, and that pulled upon all of his strengths as an animator, with his Disney background. It’s almost like Dumbo is a personification of himself, in a way, you know, which is interesting.” 

Screenwriter Ehren Kruger on relating to Dumbo: “Why is Dumbo a universally loved character? Everyone sees themselves in the story of a character who has self-doubt, who has flaws, who is defined as one thing by someone else and has this mouse inside them, telling them maybe you’re more than that, maybe that negative is a positive. So we worked very hard to create a menagerie of human characters, a circus family, around Dumbo who all, in some way, were wrestling with uncertainty about themselves and their place in the world and, in fact, in the circus’ place in the world, so that Dumbo could be, for each one of them, an inspiration like he is to audiences worldwide.” 

Composer Danny Elfman shares with us the process of working with Tim Burton:

“You know, it’s funny–this is our 17th film, and I still don’t know what to expect from Tim at all. People think that, ‘oh, you must have this shorthand which is real simple,’ and I go ‘no, actually working with Tim is a lot less simple than a lot of other directors.’ His mind is strange and interesting and I learned many years ago never to take for granted what I think he’s gonna want…Most of my favorite scores that I’ve written–I’ve done over a hundred films–most of my favorites have been Tim’s movies. But I won’t say that many of those were without great challenges…but I don’t care. If I like the result, whether it was like a slam dunk easy thing or really took a long process to find is irrelevant to me. It’s only the end-product that matters, really. It’s all you remember later, anyhow. Kind of like having kids: If you remember the first year, you’ll never want to look at another kid again. But then they’re so cute and so great, you forget all that part and you go ‘kids are great!’ I find film scores to be somewhat similar.”

On the second part of the press conference joined us Director Tim Burton, actors Colin Farrell, Nico Parker, Finley Hobbins, Eva Green, Danny DeVito and Michael Keaton.

Burton on what he loves about “Dumbo”: “Just the idea of it. The idea of a flying elephant, a character that doesn’t quite fit into the world, and how something 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… all those great old Disney fables had that kind of simple symbolism for real emotions.”

Farrell on what kids can take away from “Dumbo”: “The same thing adults can take away from the film: The importance of not just accepting the inherent difference that people have in relation to each other, but celebrating it. I just think, as Tim was saying, there are simple messages that are very complex, it seems, to live in, as we go on through our lives, and those messages are messages of kindness and inclusion and all those kinds of things, so that’d be cool. Or else if they’re just entertained for a couple hours, I’ll take that as well.”

Burton: “But also, just with the Disney movies, for me, the reason I wanted to do it…the old Disney movies had all these elements. They had joy, they had humor, they had…death, you know, everything. They had…”

Farrell: “You skipped so deftly between joy and death.”

Burton: “Did I emphasize that one too much?”

DeVito on working with Keaton again: “When Tim called a year ago or whenever it was and said he was making a movie, I was really thrilled to be able to be part of it, and you know, the joy factor went up through the roof when I heard that Michael was in it with me, ’cause…”

Keaton: “Part of the joy factor was the first thing he reminded me, was that he got to be the hero and I got to be the bad guy. He was just thrilled with that.”

DeVito: “You,know, once in a while…’how does it feel to be the bad guy?’ Him in the mask and the whole Batman thing–it was just too much for me. And me always being the gross Penguin, grunting and groaning…”

“Dumbo” opens in U.S. theaters on March 29, 2019.