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Disney’s ‘Dumbo’ soars to new heights

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Disney's new live-action fantasy adventure “Dumbo” is loosely based on the 1941 animated film of the same name.

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Friday, March 29, 2019

You have to hand it to Disney. They will sell you the lemon, then sell you lemonade, then sell you lemon méringue pie. Clever marketers, indeed.

Which brings us to Disney’s new movie, “Dumbo.”

First there was a children’s book called “Dumbo” by Helen Aberson and Harold Pearl. But nobody remembers them.

Then, in 1941, Walt Disney made an animated movie called “Dumbo,” the story of an elephant with ears so big he could fly. A charming fantasy featuring a cute little pachyderm that kids loved. I remember having a plastic toy based on Dumbo as a youngster. (Yes, there was merchandising to go with the feature-length cartoon even back then.)

In 1955, an aerial carousel-style ride called Dumbo the Flying Elephant opened at Disneyland. Today you can find the ride in six Disney parks around the world.

In 1981, Disney on Ice was licensed out, with Dumbo as one of the featured characters in the skating show.

In 1985, the Disney Channel introduced a puppet show called “Dumbo’s Circus” featuring “The World’s Only Flying Elephant.”

In 1995, Disney used the name in a war comedy called “Operation Dumbo Drop.”

In 2000, Dumbo was featured in a PlayStation 2 video game.

In 2009, Dumbo was introduced into the Disneyland nighttime fireworks show, in which the elephant flies around Sleeping Beauty’s Castle while synchronized music plays.

You get the idea.

So it’s no surprise that we now have a new, live-action fantasy adventure film called “Dumbo.” Loosely based on the 1941 animated film of the same name, it’s directed by Tim Burton (“Beetlejuice,” “Batman,” “Alice in Wonderland,” etc.)

“Dumbo” is currently soaring to new heights at AMC Fire Tower, 1685 E. Fire Tower Road, and Regal Cinemas Greenville Gande, 750 S.W. Greenville Blvd.

This version features a slightly different storyline from the original film: “Circus owner Max Medici enlists Holt Farrier to care for a newborn elephant whose oversized ears make him a laughing stock in an already struggling circus. But when Holt's children discover that Dumbo can fly, persuasive entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere and an aerial artist named Colette Marchant swoop in to make the peculiar pachyderm a star.”

Danny DeVito is cast as Max, the ringmaster of the circus.

Michael Keaton plays V.A. Vandevere, the man who buys the circus.

Colin Ferrell gives us the one-armed war veteran who is hired to care for the newborn elephant with the big ears.

Eva Green is flying high as the French trapeze artist.

Dumbo himself is a CGI recreation of the original flying elephant. However, two elephant props were used during filming “to give the production team an idea of his size and his shape in the scene; an idea of the lighting, and that kind of thing; where he's going to be for camera.”

For Tim Burton, it was like old home week. He’d worked with Keaton in movies ranging from “Beetlejuice” to “Batman.” DeVito had a role in “Batman Returns.” And Eva Green appeared in “Dark Shadows” and “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.”

Also, Burton’s frequent collaborator, Danny Elfman, did the film’s score.

This was Ferrell’s first time working with Tim Burton. He said he took the role because “the idea of acting in something as sweet and fantastical and otherworldly, while being grounded in some recognizable world that we can relate to, under the direction of Burton” was something he always wanted to do.

Absent from this retelling of the Dumbo story is the little elephant’s rodent mentor Timothy Q. Mouse, as well as Jim Crow and his flock that helped Dumbo learn to fly.

Why their absence? After nearly 80 years, maybe it’s thought that Dumbo can stand — uh, that is, fly — on his own.

Shirrel Rhoades is a former executive with Marvel Entertainment, a writer, publisher, professor and filmmaker. He is from North Carolina and lives in Florida. Contact him at srhoades@aol.com.

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