It seems with each new month, another live-action adaption of an animated movie is announced. Last summer was Maleficent, Cinderella will be released in a few days, casting has been announced for Beauty and the Beast and now we have Tim Burton’s Dumbo.
Tim Burton and Dumbo: could there be a stranger match? When Burton adapted Alice in Wonderland in 2010, that universe fit his Gothic and dark fantasy style. In terms of atmosphere, Alice in Wonderland and something like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (another Burton film taking place in a whimsical fantasy land) do not seem all that different.
Disney’s 1941 hit, Dumbo, is the story of an outcast elephant who hopes to find his way home to his mother. He overcomes a variety of situations, such as being forced to fly in the circus. Yes, the elephant can fly. Surprisingly, the story works well for Burton: most of his movies revolve around an outcast protagonist. There’s Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Willy Wonka and Sweeny Todd. But for me, seeing Dumbo in a typically dark Burton environment is discomforting. I will always see Dumbo as the bright Technicolored piece; I fear a dark Dumbo.
Although animated Disney films are suddenly getting green-lit for live-action adaptations, animated works from other studios are not receiving the same treatment. For example, American studio Warner has been trying for years to make Katsuhiro Otomo’s 1988 animated sci-fi dystopian epic, Akira, into a live action spectacle. Recently, the project was delayed again. (It’s also more proof that Disney has control of the animation industry and can make anything they desire).
Adapting animated works into live-action films is certainly an interesting trend. Ultimately, I believe that if a project was conceived as a work of animation, it might better to stay that way. Some things remain best untouched (this could not be more true for Akira). But maybe Tim Burton will gives us a surprise with Dumbo? Or maybe he will forever change the way new generations think of the lovable, little elephant, for better or for worse.