Outsiders Find Family: Behind the Scenes of DUMBO
By Tess Farrand, Staff Writer
Nearly eighty years ago, the beloved Disney cartoon DUMBO released, and now, Disney is releasing a live-action DUMBO with a fresh take on the classic story. Filmmakers, producers and cast members gathered for a press conference to discuss the movie and its relatable themes such as feeling like an outsider and finding a family despite being different.
Tim Burton (CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, THE CORPSE BRIDE) served as the director for DUMBO. Many audiences will note that Burton has a distinct style. For the skeptics of his ability to work on a treasured tale, DUMBO producer Derek Frey thinks Burton has more in common with the character Dumbo because of his style. “I think for Tim [Burton], it was the combination of knowing that the technology was there to render this character, and that pulled upon all of his strengths as an animator with his Disney background.” He continued, “it’s almost like Dumbo is like a personification of himself in a way, which is interesting.” He added, “it’s a simple story. It’s a beautiful story, and I think a lot of the themes in the story…. They’re universal things. It’s about family.”
Tim Burton noted the same themes. “[At] its heart, [it’s] about family, and what I liked about it was the human parallel story. This character Holt who comes back from a war. He doesn’t have an arm. He doesn’t have a wife. He doesn’t have a job…. He’s trying to find his place in the world, and all of the characters actually are in that way.”
Holt is played by Colin Farrell (SAVING MR. BANKS). When asked what he hopes children would take away from the movie, Farrell said, “The same thing adults take away. The importance of not just accepting the inherent differences that people have from each other in relation to each other, but celebrating it.” He finished the question saying, “[or else] if they’re just entertained for a couple of hours and take that as well.”
Eva Green (DARK SHADOWS) was asked if she resonates with Dumbo’s character. She responded, “I think everybody has felt at some point kind of a bit strange or different…. It’s a big thing. It’s just such a wonderful movie because it has that message of ‘no, it’s okay to be strange or different.’ It’s actually great. It makes you special.”
Seasoned actors Danny Devito (HERCULES, MATILDA) and Michael Keaton (BEETLE JUICE, HERBIE FULLY LOADED) were excited to work with Burton again on DUMBO. Keaton shared his thoughts on the process. “It’s a rare thing to work with an original [Burton] and to be in the thick of it. To be right in the middle of a piece of art.” DeVito echoed saying, “It’s just astounding. You give a talented person like Tim a subject like Dumbo with all the great messages and metaphors and what does he do? He sends it off into the stratosphere.”
Collectively, Burton appreciated how the cast functioned almost as an Island of Misfits Toys-type of a group. The director felt it was crucial that the cast become like a family and, in turn, echo the crux of the movie. “It was very special to me to work with people that I’ve worked with,” Burton said. “I feel like I’ve worked with him [Collin Farrell] for many years because he’s got the same kind of spirit and meeting Nico and Finley, everybody, and Alan Arkin. Having like a family, a weird dysfunctional family, like a film is, and like the movie circus is.” He finished saying, “the spirit of all of them really meant the world to me in terms of what the movie is, and the spirit that they all put into it.
Burton expressed his overall hope and motivation behind the project, stating that classic Disney animated movies had all sorts of elements to them. “They had joy,” He said. “They had humor… . We always had the mixture of those things.” He added, “we tried to present these things without overdoing it in a fable-like way.”