Disney's live-action Dumbo remake looks to be making one big change to the animated original. Directed by Tim Burton from a screenplay by Ehren Kruger, Dumbo promises to be an emotive story with a lot of heart, just like its original animated counterpart. However, there are sure to be substantial differences from the original movie which, at just 64 minutes long, is the shortest Disney movie of all. While the trailer definitely captures the visual style and essence of Dumbo, one big change means that an overriding problem with the original will be fixed.
In the 1941 animated classic, Dumbo is entirely mute, something that is still quite rare for the central character of a movie. That means we're reliant on other characters to drive the narrative of the story; the animation of the time also means that Dumbo is pretty limited in terms of facial expressions. We see worry, sadness, and happiness, but the subtle nuances of character that animators can display now were simply unheard of. The story comes from the other animals, since humans barely feature other than creatures to be afraid of. There's Mrs. Jumbo, Dumbo's mother who is taken away for being too protective of her baby, then there's Timothy Mouse, Dumbo's best friend and biggest champion and finally, there are the crows, who - like most of the audience - have never seen an elephant fly.
In Burton's Dumbo, it doesn't seem like any of the animals speak. While this might seem strange to those who were expecting a straight remake just with CGI animals and humans, it actually has some fundamental and positive impacts.
Danny DeVito plays Max Medici, the circus owner who is struggling to keep his business going. He enlists the help of Colin Farrell's Holt Farrier and his children, Milly and Joe, to care for the newborn elephant with giant ears. It seems as though Farrell and the kids essentially fill the role of Timothy Mouse: at the end of the trailer Milly can even be seen giving Dumbo his magic feather. Not just shifting a character, this angle will give an extra dimension to the movie, providing a reason for Dumbo to know and trust the humans. Added to that, is the arrival of Michael Keaton's V.A. Vandevere, who wants to recruit Dumbo for his newest entertainment business venture, Dreamland. Again, this shifts focus to human drama, with Holt soon realizing all is not well with Dreamland. Talking animals have been shifted to allow us to see humans fighting for Dumbo's right to safety.
That's not to mention that the move also seems to mean the crows can be avoided almost entirely. Jim Crow and the others have some clear racial overtones that feels out of place in a modern context, and an update would be tricky by any stretch.
As cute as the animated Dumbo is, there's something lacking in the overall arc of the story, which Burton's Dumbo should fix by expanding on the plot and bringing in these new characters. But, for all the changes, one aspect must remain: the love between Mrs. Jumbo and her son. One of the most heartbreaking moments in any Disney movie is when Mrs. Jumbo is chained up in a circus wagon; Timothy Mouse takes Dumbo to see her and the baby elephant sits in the crook of her trunk, crying as she rocks him.