Is a Live-Action ‘Dumbo’ Remake a Good or Bad Idea?

DumboWalt Disney Co.

According to the House of Mouse, everything is fair game for the remake treatment. With the hugely successful Maleficent just about wrapping up a spellbinding run at the box office, Disney has set its sights on their next live-action remake: Dumbo, the 1941 classic about a baby elephant that miraculously learns to fly thanks to his jumbo-sized ears, is getting remade into a live-action film. Transformers scribe Ehren Kruger is penning the script, and the film will feature an additional human story that will mirror Dumbo’s journey in the film. Given the nature of the story, Dumbo will be a tricky film to update for a modern audiences, and some might argue that the flying elephant is better off left in the past. Here are our reasons for and against a Dumbo remake.


It’s a good story: Dumbo, at it’s purest, is a simple and uplifting parable about being yourself in the face of adversity and letting your freak flag fly. It’s a pretty universal story and there’s no reason it couldn’t work for today’s audiences. In a time of revisionist fairy tales and live-action perspective twists, maybe sticking with the bare bones classic narrative would be the best way to handle a Dumbo remake.

The songs are great: We dare you not to cry while a locked up Ms. Jumbo sings “Baby Mine” while cradling Dumbo. It’s impossible.

It’s in serious need of an update: As well meaning as it was at the time of release, Dumbo is racked with problems, and the story is in need of a fresh coat of paint. The crow characters are obviously the biggest issue to contend with. At best, they’re slightly insensitive racial stereotype, and at worst well… Let’s just say the leader of the flock is named “Jim Crow” and leave it at that. Besides the film’s troubling racial depictions, there are other issues. 1941 was a very different time and place, and having your two main characters getting hammered and going on a bad trip featuring hallucinatory pink elephants probably wouldn’t fly with parents in 2014.

Many kids haven’t seen the original: Disney fandom is such a generational thing, and the kids that are currently torturing their parents with yet another spirited rendition of “Let It Go” probably haven’t seen, or might not even be aware with Disney’s golden age of animation. Recreating Dumbo for a new audience will likely introduce the character to a new generation of fans.


It’s controversial: As stated earlier, Dumbo has its fair share of controversy, which is why it’s slightly baffling that Disney chose to remake this particular film out of its extensive back log of animated classics. If included at all, the crow characters would need some serious retooling, and we could easily see them being removed altogether. But removal of characters and elements from the classic film would likely draw ire from Disney purists. It’s sort of a lose-lose situation.

It’s too simple: The original Dumbo clocks in at only about 60 minutes, which is barely a feature length film, and pales in comparison to recent Disney efforts like Maleficent (97 minutes) and Frozen (105 minutes). Stretching another 30 minutes out of a 60-minute story would just make a crappier film. They’d likely need to add additional plot lines, which of course leads to…

The added human story: The original Dumbo feels unique in the way that it focuses almost solely on the circus animals while leaving the human characters, who are often portrayed as cruel and self-serving, in the background. Creating a human family as a side plot seems like an idea that goes against what makes the original film special in the first place. We can’t help but think that everything involving the new human characters will feel superfluous. Dumbo is a story about a baby elephant and his mouse friend, not a boy and his pachyderm. 

Too many CGI animals: After the first trailer for the live-action Paddington Bear movie turned a formerly lovable anthropomorphic character into the stuff of nightmares, Disney has to be pretty cautious with the new version of Dumbo. Between Dumbo himself, Timothy Q. Mouse, the crows, and all of the other elephant characters, there’s going to be a ton of CG animals running around, and the effects would need to be impeccable for all of those digital characters to look convincing in a live-action setting.