Recently, I had the amazing honor of attending the red carpet premiere of Dumbo. Just the day before, I was able to get an inside scoop about what it was like to create the latest Disney live action masterpiece fused with Tim Burton’s creativity! I attended the press conference of Dumbo, with a panel of the filmmakers, as well as a panel of the cast members.
For the first panel, in attendance were composer Danny Elfman, costume designer Colleen Atwood, production designer Rick Heinrichs, producer/screenwriter Ehren Kruger, producer Justin Springer, producer Derek Frey, and producer Katterli Frauenfelder.
Derek Frey talked about how when they were given the screenplay, him and TIm were excited about the idea of expanding on the story of Dumbo since the original is only 63 minutes long. Burton was confident that the technology was there to successfully render an elephant in a live action environment. Having to animate Dumbo pulled upon Burton’s strengths from his background as a Disney animator.
“It’s a simple story. It’s a beautiful story. And I think a lot of the themes in the story that 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.” – Derek Frey
Producer Frauenfelder talked about how the visual aspects of the film began with Tim Burton’s sketches. For the actual character of Dumbo, he didn’t want an elephant that looked photorealistic, he wanted something heightened.
Dumbo is Colleen Atwood’s 11th project with Tim Burton. This movie in particular really appealed to her, since she liked the idea of creating a world that’s both period yet performance based, designing costumes that both fit fantasy and reality. She had to manage about 500 people a day for several months.
Another creator who is seasoned at working with Tim Burton is composer Danny Elfman, with Dumbo being their 17th film together. Even with so many films in their past, Elfman shared that he still never really knows what to expect from Burton. Burton doesn’t like to talk about the music before the movie begins to be made. Most of the time figuring out what the music should sound like is something that happens further into the process of making the film, which Elfman finds is a great way to compose for movies so you can really infuse how you feel about the movie into the process.
Justin Springer shared that the project first came about when Ehren Kruger approached him about the idea, saying it was his favorite movie growing up and the first one he showed the kids. And it was the first movie Springer remembers seeing. They both started talking about Dumbo, and they approached Disney to see if they would be interested to see a script. Disney said yes! Part of the beauty of this project is that it came from an organic place.
Kruger elaborated more about his love for Dumbo and wanting to tell his story:
“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 a satisfying end for Dumbo of that story? And so that just organically led to expanding the story past where the animated film ends.”
As far as executing the setting of the film, production designer Rick Heinrichs returned to collaborate on another Burton film. Burton very early on decided he wanted this film to be done on a stage, and didn’t want it to have a CG look. Heinrichs had the task of creating an elaborate, immersive environment that felt real, yet had a Tim Burton level of stylization and caricature, pushing the elements a bit.
Interviews With the Cast
For the next panel, we were able to interview director Tim Burton, and actors Michael Keaton, Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Nico Parker, and Finley Hobbins.
Tim Burton, while never personally a fan of the circus, has always liked the idea of it. He likes the idea of being around a bunch of other weird people from around the world that can’t get regular jobs. He also liked the character of Dumbo himself, a flying elephant who doesn’t quite fit into the world. How his disadvantage turns into an advantage. Burton loved that Dumbo is a simple fable that’s about heart and family.
Danny DeVito, also not a stranger working with Tim Burton, couldn’t help but gush a bit about the director:
“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 meaning and messages and metaphors. And what does he do? He sends it off into the stratosphere.”
For Finley Hobbins and Nico Parker, this is their first major film, and they shared that each time they did their first scene with a cast member, it felt like an eternity since they were in awe, and a bit terrified! They were quickly welcomed and once they adapted to being around their fellow cast members, they had lot of fun with the film. Particularly working with Ed, who wore a green suit and played the part of Dumbo during the filming of the scenes.
Eva Green loved being a part of this film since it really focuses on what it feels like to be an outsider, something everybody has felt at one point in their lives.
“It’s such a wonderful movie because it has the 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.” -Eva Green
Colin Farrell also touched upon the important message this movie has for people feeling like an outsider. Dumbo encourages that we accept and celebrate our inherent differences. It’s a simple message that is also very complex that we use to navigate through life.
Disney’s Dumbo comes to theatres March 29th.