"Dumbo" is set to become the latest Disney classic developed into a live-action film. The re-imagining of 1941's large-eared elephant follows box office successes like "Alice In Wonderland" and "Maleficent," as well as the development of "Cinderella," "The Jungle Book," "Beauty and the Beast" and "The Little Mermaid." This leaves us to wonder: Will the various anthropomorphic animals featured in all of these films just be computer generated? And has Disney completely run out of ideas?
The success rate on these sorts of films make them surefire hits, regardless of critical reception. In 2010, "Alice In Wonderland" grossed $334,191,110, despite scoring a mere 51 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. "Maleficent" fared slightly worse, at 49 percent, but pulled in a $214,871,017 domestic gross (and more than $630 million worldwide).
With more classic films set on the live-action agenda, it seems like adding a "Sleeping Beauty" backstory was just another step in prostituting the entirety of the Disney canon. (You'll note that a teaser trailer for "Cinderella" featured a minute-long rotation around an animated shoe but still managed to go viral.)
The thing is that not only do these movies not turn out very good -- they're perhaps not even trying to be. In its promotion, "Maleficent" rested heavily on nostalgia, with legacy trailers essentially just pacing through easily remembered sequences from the film. Though it added a backstory, the villain's origin story comprised a small portion of the film, compared with what was essentially a re-telling of the "Sleeping Beauty" story we already knew, just set through a slightly skewed lens.
Films like "Snow White And The Huntsman" make more of an effort to distance themselves from fairy-tale origins, but you'll note that "Snow White" was produced by Universal Studios, not Disney. The power of Disney is in its ownership of not just the classic tellings of these tales, but the predominant way we currently think of these stories. Just compare the reinvention tactics of "Snow White And The Huntsman" with its box office numbers. Grossing $155,332,381, it did not exceed its $170 budget domestically and was easily beat out by the more straightforward likes of "Maleficent."
"Dumbo" is slightly different in that it trades in a relatively more recent tale: the 1939 story by Helen Aberson Meyer and illustrations by Harold Pearl for a "Roll-a-Book" toy. Whereas "Cinderella" and "Beauty And The Beast" (also coming eventually to a theater near you) have more indelible origins, recreating "Dumbo" still plays on what will likely be the problematic re-harvesting of a story that has already been told.
For one thing, "Dumbo" is set to be written by "Transformers" scribe Ehren Kruger, who will produce it alongside Justin Springer ("Oblivion," "Tron: Legacy") -- credit updates, noted by The Hollywood Reporter, that imply the simple and sad 64-minute original is all geared up to be bombarded by the "bigger means better" mentality that "Transformers" so dishearteningly exemplifies.
Oh, and then we have the topic of CGI. Disney will likely struggle to find a talking elephant to star in this film. Although, as THR writes, "The studio believes that because of the current state of CG technology, live-action movies featuring a soaring pachyderm (or any animal for that matter) are viable." So, congratulations, Disney: We've finally reached EPCOT's world of tomorrow, and it's a realm where there are zero new ideas, yet elephants can fly.
Anyway, yes, now would be a great time to listen to "Baby Mine" while crying quietly to yourself.