Warning: SPOILERS for the new Dumbo are ahead!
Last weekend, Disney released the latest live-action remake of one of its classic animated films. This time the spotlight shined on Dumbo, who first appeared in 1941. Directed by Tim Burton, the new Dumbo fell short of expectations at the box office and received mixed reviews, so it hasn't caught on fire like many of Disney's other remakes. However, what sets Dumbo apart from those films is that it isn't afraid to deviate from the source material.
Not since Pete's Dragon has there been a Disney remake that changed so much from original movie. You can argue that Dumbo had to make those changes because the cartoon was only about an hour long and some of its elements haven't aged well. Regardless, the remake is really different from the original and most of the changes make it an improvement. Here are eight things that the new Dumbo did differently from its predecessor.
More Emphasis On Human Characters
1941's Dumbo was all about, well, Dumbo. Even though Dumbo never spoke, thanks to the power of animation, audiences were still able to identify with him because of how expressive he was. Plus, he had a small cast of animal characters to speak for him and to keep the plot moving. For his live-action debut, Dumbo is photo-realistic, which means its harder to base an entire movie around just him because he can't be as expressive. So, you need human characters to interpret Dumbo's feelings. Colin Farrell stars as World War I veteran Holt Farrier, who returns home to the circus to raise his two children, who become the caretakers of the newborn Dumbo. The original Dumbo only really had one human character, the ringmaster, who is played here by Danny DeVito.
No More Talking Animals
Seeing as how the remake is a mostly grounded take on Dumbo (excluding the whole flying elephant thing), the film made a decision not to include any talking animals. Dumbo never spoke anyway, but that meant no sassy elephants and no Timothy Mouse, Dumbo's sidekick. The latter is probably the most notable exclusion, but Timothy's role as Dumbo's emotional support is fulfilled by the Farrier children, so there's no real loss from a story perspective. Timothy does still have a cameo as a mouse being trained to perform in the circus. Another benefit of this approach is that the film doesn't have to deal with the talking crows, who in the 1941 version were a racial stereotype of African Americans. (The lead crow was actually named Jim Crow!)
Almost The Entire Plot
1941's Dumbo is barely over an hour long, so a modern day remake would naturally have to reenvision most of the original to fit a two-hour runtime. Additionally, most of the original is just Dumbo going through various shenanigans while trying to reunite with his mother until he learns to fly in the final five minutes(!!!) of the movie. So, a lot of the plot is entirely new to the remake. About the first 30 or so minutes of the movies are the same before the remake deviates from the path. Once Dumbo becomes an overnight sensation, theme park mogul V.A. Vandevere buys Dumbo's circus and brings it to his Dreamland amusement park so that Dumbo can be his star attraction. From there, the film is about Dumbo preparing for his debut while the Farriers hatch an escape plan after learning that Vandevere isn't such a nice guy.
Dumbo Doesn't Get Wasted
Probably the most memorable sequence in 1941's Dumbo is "Pink Elephants on Parade," in which Dumbo and Timothy (accidentally) get drunk and have a trippy hallucination of dancing pink elephants. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but no, a baby elephant doesn't get wasted in this movie. In fact, the remake makes a very quick nod to that when a clown offers to give Dumbo a celebratory drink and DeVito snaps "No champagne near the baby." However, this doesn't mean that the pink elephants don't make an appearance. In the remake, they are massive bubbles that are conjured at Dreamland before Dumbo's big act. They don't play their trumpets like horns, but it's a satisfactory sequence that doesn't leave Dumbo with a hangover.
Dumbo Is Born The Old Fashioned Way
Rather than have Mrs. Jumbo be pregnant and need to explain to kids how babies are born, the original Dumbo had a stork deliver the baby elephant to his mother. It's actually really cute, but the live-action version obviously wasn't going to go that route. Nope, Dumbo is born the old fashioned way. The actual birth isn't shown, but Dumbo shows up about 10 minutes into the movie. The movie does have another nod to the original when the pregnant Jumbo spots a stork right outside her cage the night she gives birth to Dumbo. Dumbo's father is a no-show in both versions.
Uh, Someone Dies
Dumbo is about as light of a kid's movie as you can get, though, it can be really sad in places. However, no one ever died in the original, which you can't say about the remake. Early on in the film, there's a mean circus worker who hates Holt because of... reasons, and he especially seems to hate the elephants. With Holt in charge of the elephants, the worker tries to jeopardize him during Dumbo's very first show by agitating Jumbo and setting her loose in the big top. It doesn't help that everyone was making fun of her big-eared baby, but Jumbo inadvertently knocks over one of the supporting columns during her rampage, and it crushes the worker. The movie whizzes by this and no one sheds a tear for the guy, but it's still pretty weird to say that there was death in a Dumbo movie.
Jumbo Is Sold From The Circus
The inciting incident in Dumbo is that his mother is imprisoned after she attacks people for making fun of her son. She's chained up and locked away in her own cage, which happens in both movies. However, the remake goes a step farther and sells Jumbo back to her original owner, truly separating her from Dumbo. Thus, Dumbo tries to become a circus star in the hopes that his act will raise enough money to buy back his mother. Jumbo is later sold to Vandevere and reunites with Dumbo when he arrives in Dreamland, but Vandevere decides to send her away and have her killed so that Dumbo won't have any distractions. In the original, Jumbo stays in elephant jail and is simply let go once Dumbo starts flying.
Dumbo Is Released From Captivity
Perhaps nothing highlights the differences between the two movies and the decades they were created than the ending. At the end of the original film, Dumbo learns to fly and is reunited with his mother, living a life of luxury at the circus as a superstar. The remake goes in the exact opposite direction. The Farrier family and the circus performers decide to help Dumbo and his mother escape Dreamland after learning Vandevere will kill Jumbo. Realizing that Dumbo shouldn't be forced to live a life of captivity performing, the Farrier's get Dumbo and Jumbo on a boat to East Asia, where the two can live in freedom. The film ends with Dumbo soaring above a herd of elephants and the circus flourishing with no animal captivity.
The Dumbo remake made a ton of changes to the original, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. The original is less than perfect, and if Disney was gung-ho about redoing it, then a lot needed to be updated and changed. Again, Dumbo doesn't fly until the last five minutes of the original, which is INSANE. The remake has him airborne relatively fast, which is an example of a change that was for the better. While none of these changes necessarily make Dumbo a better movie, they certainly don't hurt it.
Matt has lived in New Jersey his entire life, but commutes every day to New York City. He graduated from Rowan University and loves Marvel, Nintendo, and going on long hikes and then greatly wishing he was back indoors. Matt has been covering the entertainment industry for over two years and will fight to his dying breath that Hulk and Black Widow make a good couple.
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