Earlier this month I was invited to attend a press day for the upcoming live action DUMBO movie! This one was a real treat for me for many reasons. I really loved the animated DUMBO movie as a kid … and I mean, OBSESSED. I watched it every day on repeat (even though a few parts scared me … I’ve never liked clowns, even when I was four years old). So Dumbo has a special place in my heart. Secondly, the talent involved with this movie, wow! Tim Burton and Danny Elfman … what can I say? It was surreal to be in the room with these LEGENDS. Also, my favorite TV show of all time is Taxi so I was a little star struck to see Danny DeVito right there in front of me. Pinching myself that this is my job!
Okay, fangirling aside, when you hear the cast and creators of Dumbo speak, you can really feel how passionate they are about this movie and wanting to not only bring the story of Dumbo to a new generation but also continue and expand on the story we already know and love. I hope you enjoy these interviews while you wait for DUMBO to soar into theaters! (And don’t worry, no spoilers here!)
Interviews with the Cast and Creators of DUMBO
We got to hear from:
· Composer Danny Elfman
· Costume Designer Colleen Atwood
· Production Designer Rick Heinrichs
· Producer/Screenwriter Ehren Kruge
· Producer Justin Springer
· Producer Derek Frey
· Producer Katterli Frauenfelde
· Michael Keaton (“V.A. Vandevere”)
· Colin Farrell (“Holt Farrier”)
· Danny DeVito (“Max Medici”)
· Eva Green (“Colette Marchant”)
· Nico Parker (“Milly Farrier”)
· Finley Hobbins (“Joe Farrier”)
· Director Tim Burton
WHY DUMBO AND WHY BRING HIM BACK TO THE BIG SCREEN NOW?
DEREK FREY: Tim was aware that the technology had reached a point where you could successfully render an elephant into a live action environment. And it just seemed like for Tim, he’s obviously done some reimaginings in the past. And he knows that Disney has been going back into their catalogue of films. But 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 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. In terms of the time, so much time has gone by since the original. And it’s a simple story. It’s a beautiful story. And I think a lot of the themes in the story that (screenwriter) Ehren created, they’re universal things. It’s about family. It’s about believing in yourself. It’s about overcoming judgment and people looking at you in a certain way. Dumbo is kind of a bullied character. I know that’s something that we’re dealing with socially right now. To place it back in a time period and have this heightened reality, I think we can learn a lot now by looking back, you know, and it’s such a beautiful world that Tim’s created.
TIM BURTON: I just liked, it was just the idea of it. The idea of a flying elephant and the character that doesn’t quite fit into the world and how somebody with a disadvantage makes it an advantage. It was just a very pure simple image. Like all the old Disney fables had that kind of simple symbolism for real emotions. I just like the fact that it’s obviously a very simple fable, very simple story. And it’s heart, about family. And what I liked about it was the human parallel story. This character Holt who comes back from a war … He’s trying to find his place in the world. And all of the characters actually are in that way. Nico’s character. She wants to be something else. Everybody is trying to find their place in the world. Like Dumbo. And using disadvantage to advantage. So lots of nice themes. But in a very simple framework.
JUSTIN SPRINGER: Ehren and I had worked on another project at Disney together. And we were talking about other things we might want to work on together. And we sat down over lunch and Ehren asked me about Dumbo. He said it was his favorite movie growing up as a kid and the first one that he showed his kids. And it was a movie that I remember seeing. I have a very vivid picture of seeing that movie for the first time as a young kid. We just started talking about why Dumbo and why now and what might be interesting. Ehren had an early version of the story in mind that he and I started talking through. And I went to the studio and said “hey, Ehren is this writer that we all know and love. And he’s really excited about this title. Would you guys consider it? Would you be willing to hear a story from us?” And they said “yes.” But it came from a very organic place. Ehren wrote a really beautiful script and an early version of that script before many people got their hands on it and went to Tim and he brought his own passion and enthusiasm from that original title to what Ehren had done. So all of that kind of came from this really sort of beautiful place of people who really loved the original film and wanted to honor that original film and find ways to carry that story forward and bring contemporary themes and ideas to it as well, but who really loved the original film.
EHREN KRUGER: I wanted to be a part of this movie for I think the same reasons that I hope an audience wants to see the movie that, for me, is a very personal experience of wish fulfillment. Dumbo is not just a Disney character. He’s a mythological character. And I wish he were real. I wish I could have been in the audience of that circus in the golden age of the circus and observe his story. And then to take the next step, not just observe his story, but imagine what it’s like to be Dumbo. And that leads you to a place where you say what would Dumbo want and is the end of the 1941 film truly a satisfying end for Dumbo of that story? And so that just organically led to expanding the story past where the animated film ends.
WHAT’S IT LIKE WORKING WITH TIM BURTON?
DANNY DEVITO: I think he’s brilliant. I think he’s just a genius. Like his artistry. It’s just astounding. You give a talented person like Tim a subject like Dumbo with all the great meeting and messages and metaphors. And what does he do? He sends it off into the stratosphere.
MICHAEL KEATON: It’s true. But it’s a rare thing to work with an original. And to be in the thick of it. To be right in the middle of a piece of art.
RICK HEINRICHS: Every movie I’ve worked with Tim on with, and I’ve known Tim for almost 40 years now, has been an adventure unto itself. What I would say is that there is a shared visual shorthand and I’m sure that all of his collaborators would say the same. And the exciting thing about working with Tim is in many respects, you dig deep into the history and the period and all of the things that one normally does to bring all the toys to play with on the table. And then Tim sweeps all that aside and you sort of put it back together as a Tim Burton film. And it’s always a blank canvas that you start with. It feels dangerous and exciting and challenging and Dumbo is certainly no different from any other time.
DANNY ELFMAN: You know, it’s funny, this is our 17th film. And I still never know what to expect from Tim at all. People think that oh, you must have the shorthand, where it’s 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 going to want.
HOW DID YOU DECIDE WHAT TO KEEP FROM THE ORIGINAL MOVIE AND WHAT TO CHANGE?
EHREN KRUGER: I just thought about things that I associated so strongly with the story. Pink Elephants, Casey Jr., Firefighting Clowns. And these were all things without going back and watching the 1941 film. Zeitgeist memories or things in the back of your head. I remember that moment. I remember that image. And of course, in writing the film, I went back and revisited the animated movie a number of times. But I really tried to get to that place of, what are the core things that I associate with this? What are the simple things I associate with this story? And those have to be there.
JUSTIN SPRINGER: Yeah. I think that kind of covers it. It’s not as if you sit down and make a list of all the things that we feel like we’re beholden to include. It’s really just, you start from your own fandom and your own respect from the original and you just start to derive a story out of the stuff that feels like it’s in the essence of the movie. And those can be set pieces or visual imagery or fun little Easter eggs even. But also just in the story, what’s in the DNA of that core story that feels like it’s allowed it to have this lasting impact for 80 years. If you have that foundation, then you can take the story in all sorts of directions. We can expand out and tell a broader human story. We can see where Dumbo goes after he flies, and what the impact on the world ultimately becomes. But it all kind of comes back to what are those original elements, both visual but also in the story.
EHREN KRUGER: I suppose early on, we made the decision that we wanted to transport an audience to a circus world, to Dumbo’s circus world. And they go and enter the circus. And that meant that it needed to feel real. So early on, we made a decision to not feature talking animals. And that the most important characters in the animated film, Dumbo, doesn’t speak. So that felt organic to the story to let Dumbo be a classic Charlie Chaplin Buster Keaton-esque expressive silent film performer. And make the circus around him feel real.
WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN CREATING THE MOVIE?
TIM BURTON: The biggest challenge I guess was you have all these people. You have amazing sets, Colleen, Rick, the art director. Amazing. The only thing that’s missing is the main character. That’s a very, very unnerving thing to kind of be going into something and you know what you want. You know what you’re trying to go for. You can even see rough animation. But until it materializes, you just don’t know. So all these people are suspending disbelief for everything to make the main character there. And believable. I think that was the biggest challenge.
WHY HAS DUMBO BECOME SUCH A BELOVED CHARACTER?
EHREN KRUGER: … 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. Or maybe that negative is a positive. So we worked very hard to create a menagerie of human characters. The circus family around Dumbo who all in some way were wrestling with uncertainty about themselves and their place in the world and in fact the circus’ place in the world. So that Dumbo could be for each one of them an inspiration like he is to audiences worldwide.
EVA GREEN: I think everybody has felt at some point kind of a bit strange or different. 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. And we just have to embrace our uniqueness.
WHICH PERFORMER IN THE CIRCUS DO YOU LOVE MOST?
TIM BURTON: It’s funny. I’ve made circus movies. But I never really liked the circus. But I like the idea of it. I like the idea of that sort of concept when you’re a child of running away to the circus. … The idea of being with a bunch of other weird people from around the world that can’t get regular jobs.
NICO PARKER: I think probably the contortionists. Like when they like climbed on top of each other, because I could never do any of that. I just thought all of it was incredible.
FINLEY HOBBINS: Probably the jugglers. Because you have an excuse if you like go wrong, you can throw stuff at people’s faces.
EVA GREEN: I would have to say trapeze people, aerialists. I’ve always been petrified of heights. Like a real phobia. And thanks to Mr. Tim Burton, I have overcome my fear.
DANNY DEVITO: I really love the aerialists, the high wire, tightrope walkers. They really astound me. So its balance and grace and daring and all of the things that I lack.
COLIN FARRELL: I’ve never seen the circus. Except in the world of Tim Burton. Maybe a seal.
MICHAEL KEATON: The snake. I actually could be the snake. Not the snake handler. The snake.
DUMBO is in theaters March 29, 2019 and is rated PG!