Elfman breaks his cardinal rule for ‘Dumbo’s’ score
Tim Burton gave his live-action remake of “Dumbo” a more contemporary feel, but the film’s stars say the director kept the simple essence and elegance of the 1941 Disney ‘toon intact.
“He’s not just an incredible visual artist, he’s just got tons of heart,” said the film’s star, Colin Farrell. “He’s the right guy because at the center of this film … are themes like inclusion and celebrating difference and acceptance.”
Farrell, who plays Holt Farrier, a wounded World War I veteran who along with his children seek to protect Dumbo from those who would exploit him.
Michael Keaton said Burton has successfully created a movie that will appeal to families, but also fans of Burton’s view-askew style. “This movie is so stunningly beautiful,” Keaton explained. “And it’s got Tim’s fingerprints on it.”
The film, out Friday, is the latest in a string of live-action versions of Disney animated classics dating back to Burton’s 2010 film “Alice in Wonderland”. ‘’Dumbo” is the first of three such adaptations coming this year alone, with “Aladdin” arriving in theaters in May and “The Lion King” set for a July release.
Burton wanted “Dumbo” to deliver something new while remaining faithful to its source.
“It’s of its time so … for me the whole reason to do it was in the spirit of what Dumbo is about,” Burton said last week at the film’s London premiere. “The flying elephant represents so many things about you know like being different and using a disadvantage to an advantage.”
Still, he said in a separate interview earlier this month that he wants moviegoers to draw their own conclusions about what they’re seeing.
For Danny DeVito, who plays the owner of a small-time circus where Dumbo first takes off, the story is an allegory for how divided the world has become and how “we look at people as different than we are.
“Dumbo is so different, with his big ears and you know, people make fun of him, or think of him as a threat … and actually what we should be doing is embracing each other, and enjoying each other, and allowing each other to live and have a good time,” DeVito said.
The film is a reunion of Keaton, DeVito and Burton, who worked together on the 1992 hit “Batman Returns”. The actors’ roles have switched somewhat for the Disney film, with Keaton playing a treacherous P.T. Barnum-esque showman looking to exploit Dumbo, while DeVito lacks the menace of his penguin character from the superhero sequel.
DeVito, who has since worked with Burton on “Mars Attacks” and “Big Fish”, said those earlier collaborations helped build trust and make a better film.
Burton said he hadn’t seen Keaton in 20 years before filming “Dumbo” but working with the actor was instantly familiar. “That’s a strange feeling to have in your life: when you haven’t seen somebody for so long, then it’s – boom! – like I just saw him yesterday.”
LOS ANGELES: Composer Danny Elfman broke his cardinal rule for Disney’s remake of “Dumbo”: He wrote music ahead of time, long before shooting began and without even seeing a script.
“Thinking about the idea of a baby elephant and his mother, and the two being torn apart, I just thought of something innocent and sweet and sad,” he confesses. “I went into my studio, spent 20 minutes writing it down and making a demo of it, and I stashed it away.”
A year later, as he began working closely with director Tim Burton, he found the file (curiously labeled “Elephant”) and, to his amazement, discovered that the music matched the film perfectly. “Dumbo’s Theme” is unchanged from his original concept.
“That theme had to play bittersweet, which I knew it could, but it also had to be frivolous and light, and more important, it had to be triumphant in a really grand way,” Elfman says. Indeed, the composition could be varied to fit all of those contexts – and it’s heard throughout the live-action reimagining of the animated original.
The setting of the story – in which a small traveling circus finds unexpected success with a young pachyderm whose oversize ears allow him to fly – led the composer to depart from tradition on another front: “This was also the first time I ever asked to do all the source music,” he says, referring to the background music for the circus and its clowns.
Usually Elfman skips that part, preferring to concentrate on the dramatic score, which is the most important musical job anyway. “I love weird circuses and the idea of carnivals,” he explains. “Those funky clowns stumbling around really appealed to me. It’s fun, and it adds so much color and flavor to the score.” So calliopes, fanfares, tuba-and-trombone circus marches and aerial-act waltzes abound.
Elfman has made more than a dozen films with Burton. Their collaborations go back more than 30 years to “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” in 1985 and include such hits as “Batman”; classics like “Edward Scissorhands” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas”; and another recent Disney remake, “Alice in Wonderland”.
Their work process has changed little in that time, Elfman says. Early on, “Tim will have a sentence, or convey a feeling, but he needs to hear music. He’ll have plenty to say later when I’m presenting ideas and cues.”
By Mike Cidoni Lennox and Sian Watson