Dumbo began life in the late 1930s as a prototype for a novelty device called Roll-A-Book, which presented illustrated children’s stories on a long scroll, like a portable moving panorama. The authorship is somewhat contested, but three people were involved to some degree in the creation of “Dumbo, the Flying Elephant”: Helen Aberson Mayer, Harold Pearl (Mayer’s husband at the time), and illustrator Helen Durney. Animation historian Michael Barrier has traced the story’s path to the screen from there: Fred O’Hara, who ran a Norwich knitting mill that had made a killing selling licensed Mickey Mouse sweatshirts, bought the rights to the story along with the Roll-A-Book device. He then tried to sell the gimmick to Disney’s merchandising guru Herman Kamen, who passed it along to story editor John Clarke Rose, who brought it to Disney. Disney passed on the Roll-A-Book, but bought the rights to “Dumbo, the Flying Elephant.” It wasn’t long enough for a feature, but golden age animators Joe Grant and Dick Huemer padded the story out, and supervising director Ben Sharpsteen worked with a team of four other sequence directors to get it on screen. Anyway, here’s the first trailer for one-time Disney animator Tim Burton’s upcoming live-action remake, which comes from a screenplay by Ehren Kruger that is based on the creative work of hundreds of people, from toy inventors to knitting mill magnates, most of it done decades before Burton was born. Or, as the trailer has it, “From the imagination of Tim Burton.”
Burton’s possessory credit is just another example of the way Hollywood studios will trash their own history if they think there’s a dime to be made from it, and OH MY GOD WHAT DID THEY DO TO THAT ELEPHANT? Is that supposed to be—is that CGI? If that elephant is a puppet that exists in the real world, someone should set it on fire. Did the original Dumbo have throbbing veins in his ears? Why do the circus backgrounds look worse than Red Dead Redemption 2? Have they been testing shampoo on Dumbo’s eyes? WHAT HAPPENED TO DUMBO’S EYES? GIVE HIM BACK HIS EYES!!!
In light of the trailer, and specifically Dumbo’s appearance in the trailer, I would like to retract my earlier complaint about Tim Burton taking too much credit, and extend a personal apology to the families and estates of Helen Aberson Mayer, Harold Pearl, Helen Durney, Fred O’Hara, Herman Kamen, John Clarke Rose, Joe Grant, Dick Huemer, and Ben Sharpsteen for arguing that their names should be associated in any way with the devil creature flapping his way down into the uncanny valley in that trailer. By way of eye-wash, here’s the “Pink Elephants on Parade” sequence from the original Dumbo. An animated portrait of the mental state of an underage elephant on an accidental bender, it’s the strangest sequence in a very strange movie, and every single frame has more imagination on display than the entirety of the trailer for the remake:
As for the new Dumbo, Tim Burton, it’s all yours.