Tim Burton is Directing Another Live-Action Remake of a Disney Classic

By  · Published on March 11th, 2015

Walt Disney Productions

With Disney’s live-action Cinderella opening this weekend and receiving rave reviews, it’s natural that we hear news on other similar projects in development at the Mouse House. Still, there some questionable elements to the announcement – via The Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog – that Tim Burton is taking the reigns on the live-action remake of Dumbo.

I shared my skepticism about the logistics of this one last summer, when it was first revealed to be joining Cinderella, Alice in Wonderland, Maleficent and the upcoming Beauty and the Beast and Jungle Book in an ongoing trend. Now I’m especially disappointed that just as we’re getting the most charmingly subdued entry into the pack, for which Kenneth Branagh slightly redeems himself for Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, we’re hearing that Disney is still trusting more in Burton, who gave us the most obnoxious of these remakes with Alice.

One of my first reactions was that this is the punishment we get for not making Big Eyes a bigger hit, but it’s actually not that surprising for the studio to go with the guy whose live-action rehash brought in over a billion dollars worldwide (Cinderella is so far tracking for only about half of Alice’s $116m). Disney isn’t concerned whether we’re worried about Johnny Depp potentially playing a performance-capture elephant and Helena Bonham Carter taking on the part of Timothy Q. Mouse.

Burton also makes sense having previously shown interest in circuses. There’s one in Big Fish and in a still-unrealized project of his adapted from the novel “Geek Love,” plus there’s the Red Triangle Circus Gang in Batman Returns, and while he didn’t have anything to do with Big Top Pee-Wee, his Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure features some maniacal clowns that would fit right in with the cruel performers at Dumbo’s place of employment.

Speaking of cruelty at the circus, I have to wonder about the timing of Disney’s update on their Dumbo remake less than a week after the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus announced they’re going to stop employing elephants in their shows and will send their current pack of 13 pachyderms to a conservatory in Florida by 2018.

Even if the remake sticks to the period setting of the 1941 animated film, and even if the plot acknowledges negative treatment of the animals, the overall plot is not anti-circus nor against their general practices of animal exploitation. Especially following Disney’s decision to change their ending of the upcoming Finding Dory following backlash against SeaWorld thanks to the documentary Blackfish, the studio ought to make a consistent statement with this movie.

Then, of course, there’s the matter of the believed racist elements of Dumbo, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Burton has already produced his second live-action Disney movie, the sequel Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass, which is directed by James Bobin and opens on May 27, 2016.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.