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2019 is going to be a big year for Disney's live-action remakes of their famous animated films. There will be no fewer than three of them coming this year, including Aladdin and The Lion King both coming as big summer releases. The first entry of the year, however, will be the reinvention of Disney's flying elephant, Dumbo. It feels like something of an unusual choice for a remake, but based on the cast and the crew that is making the new Dumbo a reality, it does seem that the right people are involved to make this one something special.
While many of Disney's remakes have been fairly true retellings of the original story, Dumbo is different in that it will be creating a lot of brand new material to complete the tale of the misfit elephant. The basic premise is all still there, but there's a lot more involved. Here's everything we know about Disney's upcoming live-action remake of Dumbo.
What Have We Seen From Dumbo?
Luckily, we no longer have to wonder what the eponymous elephant will look like in this re-imagining of the classic Disney tale. A teaser trailer for Dumbo dropped in mid-June 2018, followed by a full trailer in November giving us some good looks at the cute little guy, along with many of his human co-stars. And, from what we've seen it certainly looks like it could stack up to be a wonderfully magical story.
What Is Dumbo Rated?
Dumbo has been rated PG by the MPAA. This puts the film on par with all four of Disney's most recent, live-action remakes, Maleficent, Cinderella, The Jungle Book, and Beauty and the Beast have ended up with PG ratings. While the original Dumbo was a G-rated affair, it seems quite difficult to secure that rating these days. Although, the live-action 101 Dalmatians remake from 1996 did manage it. It's hard to imagine what could be added to Dumbo that might make it unsuitable for young kids, though the original movie did include an elephant getting drunk, which probably gets you at least a PG-rating today.
What Is Dumbo's Release Date?
Dumbo will be Disney's second major release for 2019. On March 8 Marvel will open things with Captain Marvel and Dumbo will follow close behind on March 29, 2019. It releases the week after Godzilla sequel Godzilla: King of the Monsters and the week before DC comics movie Shazam. There are also a number of potential competitors for the family movie dollar being released around the same time, with the long-awaited How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World opening in February. While Dumbo is opening outside of the "summer movie season" it's opening in the same window that the Beauty and the Beast remake did, so major box office success is certainly possible.
What Is Dumbo About?
The original Dumbo was Disney's fourth animated feature, and its story is fairly simple, as shown by the film's 64-minute runtime. Dumbo is born, is mistreated by the other animals due to his abnormally large ears, and is befriended by a mouse who then helps him discover his talent for flight which the ears provide. This makes Dumbo a circus star. There isn't a lot more there, which explains why the new film will be adding a lot to the story, primarily through new human characters.
This version of Dumbo will primarily focus on a character named Holt Ferrier, a former circus star who is now a different man having returned from war. He is hired by circus owner Max Medici to take care of Dumbo, a newborn elephant who is a circus laughing stock largely due to his oversized ears. However, after Holt's children discover that Dumbo can fly, entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere and aerialist Colette Marchant insert themselves as they see star potential, and money, in Dumbo.
Dumbo promises to be a unique film and Disney has certainly succeeded in getting a unique director to bring it to life. Tim Burton is behind the camera on the new remake which promises to make Dumbo a little weird in a very special way. Burton is no stranger to working with Disney. He got his start in film working with Disney animation on films like The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron. He then returned to the House of Mouse to make movies such as his feature-length Frankenweenie and one of Disney's most successful live-action remakes, Alice in Wonderland. While Burton isn't necessarily known for it, films like Big Fish show that he is perfectly capable of the sort of movie that warms your heart, which we can expect Dumbo will ultimately be.
The screenplay for this new version of Dumbo comes from Ehren Kruger. Kruger may not be a household name but he's responsible for some of the biggest movies ever made. He wrote or co-wrote three of the Transformers sequels but may be better known to horror movie fans as the writer of Scream 3 and the first two of The Ring movies among others. He's also written fan favorites like The Brothers Grimm, Reindeer Games and Arlington Road and movies that weren't necessarily favorites, like the recent Ghost in the Shell remake with Scarlett Johansson. There really isn't anything on his resume that looks anything like what we expect Dumbo to be, which could indicate a very different sort of movie or it could indicate Kruger is taking his first shot at something very different for him.
Will There Be Music In Dumbo?
Following the smash hit that was the Beauty and the Beast remake, one always has to wonder how Disney's classic music might be handled by the remake. The original Dumbo isn't a musical in the traditional sense, as most of the music isn't actually sung by the characters. Still, there are a few well-known songs from Dumbo including "Baby Mine," "When I See an Elephant Fly" and "Casey Jr." That last song is especially noteworthy as a promotional picture of director Tim Burton (see above) shows him on board the film's circus train which is very clearly labeled as being Casey Jr.
However, Dumbo won't be a musical. Like Cinderella and Maleficent, we'd expect to hear modern covers of the film's most famous songs, likely included over the end credits rather than part of the story proper. The film's trailer does include a version of "Baby Mine," the movie's tear-jearker, which could very likely be played at the same point in the new film.
Of all the characters in the new Dumbo, the one we seem to know the least about is the title character. In the original Dumbo, the elephant is completely mute, and that appears to be the case here as well. Dumbo is being brought to life via the same computer animation that made the animals of The Jungle Book look real. It seems like Dumbo may end up being more of a secondary character in his own story, with the focus being on the humans that surround him and how they treat him.
The part of Holt Farrier, the war vet who becomes Dumbo's caretaker will be played by Colin Farrell. Farrell most recently worked with Disney on Saving Mr. Banks, the story of the making of Mary Poppins, where he played the father of P.L. Travers in the flashback sequences. From everything that we know about the plot, it sounds like, if Dumbo isn't really our main character, Farrier is. He'll likely be the one fighting to keep Dumbo safe while others attempt to take advantage of him once it is discovered what he can do. At one point it was rumored that Will Smith was attached to Dumbo, and it's likely this is the role Smith would have played. Instead, Will Smith will appear in another Disney remake a couple months after Dumbo comes out, as the Genie in Aladdin.
The role of circus owner Max Medici will be played by Danny DeVito. DeVito previously voiced the trainer of heroes Philoctetes (aka Phil) in Disney's animated Hercules. He also previously worked with director Tim Burton in Batman Returns as the Penguin. There is a Ringmaster character in the original animated Dumbo who is likely the basis for this character, but he doesn't have much impact on the story. Whether he is a benevolent circus owner who loves his animals, or a cruel one who mistreats them, is not clear. DeVito is certainly capable of taking the character in either direction. Though he probably isn't the main villain of the movie, as that role appears to be played by somebody else.
Michael Keaton will play the role of entrepreneur V. A. Vandevere. Keaton hasn't done a major production for Walt Disney Pictures before, though he has provided voices for Pixar in both the Toy Story and Cars franchise in years past. Like Danny DeVito, he worked with Tim Burton on the Batman movies, in the title role back in the late '80s and early '90s. We know from the official plot synopsis that Vandevere will see the potential for money in Dumbo's ability to fly and look to cash in on this. The trailer makes it pretty clear that this is our villain of the piece. Dumbo will be exploited by the unscrupulous businessman, while those that helped raise the little elephant will try to protect him.
Tom Hanks was originally rumored to be in the running to play the villain of Dumbo and while that didn't pan out, Michael Keaton brings a lot of the same stature to the role. Although, seeing Tom Hanks play a bad guy would have been a shocking thing. Michael Keaton in the same role is a lot easier to buy.
Eva Green will play what appears to be the major female role in Dumbo as an aerialist named Colette Marchant. She's an associate of V.A. Vandevere and it sounds like the two may be business partners in addition to Marchant being a circus performer herself. This likely means that Green will be a villain as well, assuming that she knows everything that her colleague is up to. This will be Eva Green's third production with Tim Burton following the recent Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and 2012's Dark Shadows.
J. Griffin Remington
The last character of note is named J. Griffen Remington and will be played by Oscar winner Alan Arkin. We know very little about the character beyond the fact that he's a "Wall Street tycoon." If I were to guess, he's probably a potential money source for Michael Keaton's character, who will need money in order to make Dumbo the massive attraction he envisions. That's all speculation, however. The character has only been seen briefly, in a short sneak peek video that was released in February, and it's not revealed how the character will fit into the plot. With Arkin in the role we can be fairly confident the part is important, but since the character doesn't get a mention in the official plot synopsis, it's hard to guess how he'll fit into the story.
Other Dumbo Characters And References
The most conspicuous absences here are all the characters that we actually remember from the animated version of Dumbo. Timothy Q. Mouse, an actual mouse who befriends Dumbo, was the major speaking role in the animated movie. We briefly see a mouse in ringmaster garb in the trailer, implying that we'll get a few references to the animated movie in places where the story has changed.
We also see a black feather that Dumbo plays with in the trailer. This is a clear reference to the "magic feather" that Dumbo receives, which he believes is the thing that allows him to fly. This likely means he won't be receiving it from a flock of crows, which, if you remember the original animated film, is a good thing.
Disney's live-action remakes have been largely successful with audiences in recent years. However, the additions to Dumbo will make this the first movie since Maleficent to tell a significantly different story than the animated movie that inspired it. The question is, just how open is the audience to seeing a very different story of Dumbo? We don't have much longer to wait until we find out.