Reviews of the Tim Burton’s Dumbo reboot have been meh to blargh, but these reviewers don’t understand the true purpose of the film: To orchestrate a giant, Avengers-style Disney universe mashup. Hear me out.
It’s only a mild spoiler alert to say that at the end of Tim Burton’s Dumbo, the outcast elephant is not lying weeping in a filthy circus cage — but, rather, happily reunited with his mother, Mrs. Jumbo, in Africa. There are panoramic shots of elephants gathering in a steaming waterfall. There are egrets flying in formation over wetland. One could almost imagine them forming a circle to see a freshly born lion cub while someone hollers a Zulu chant. Then it hit me. The end of Dumbo … is the beginning of The Lion King.
What going on here should be obvious. There’s a grand plan at work in Dumbo, but I guess reviewers are just too jaded to see it: Tim Burton’s Dumbo isn’t about character development, or instilling a sense of childish wonder, or even enjoying yourself for 112 minutes. It’s about something more important: Carefully orchestrated corporate synergy in which Belle of Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella of Cinderella, Lady, and the Tramp, and possibly all 101 Dalmatians will be cavorting on the African savanna. It’s the circle of life. Everything’s been leading here!
Walt Disney’s long-held dream of a single home for all his characters began with breaking ground at Disneyland in 1954, but it will only come to fruition with the upcoming 2019 reboot of The Lion King. Some naysayers have mused that, based on the trailer, the movie will be little more than a shot-by-shot CGI remake of the original. The problem with that theory is that it would be a cynical cash grab, which is adamantly not what the Disney company is about. Why pump millions of dollars into creating a property that already exists and is universally beloved?
No, the widely viewed trailer is instead a brilliant piece of misdirection for an all-too-credulous public. Because it’s clear as day that when Mufasa is hanging off the edge of a gorge in 2019’s The Lion King, ready to plummet to his death because of his scheming brother Scar (voiced by Chiwetel Ejiofor), that’s when Dumbo will swoop in to rescue him. Minds will be blown. The internet will break. Doves will cry.
The thing you need to realize about the upcoming Lion King adaptation is that it’s all about Dumbo. After his airborne rescue, Dumbo will lead Mufasa back to his herd; he will find protection under the immense carriage of Mrs. Jumbo, where no hyena dares tread. (The relationship between Mufasa and Mrs. Jumbo will grow over the course of the film. There will definitely be a will-they, won’t-they vibe.)
Everything after this is off the book, entirely new. The audience won’t know what to expect. It will be a completely new sensation for anyone who’s seen a Disney film since the late ’90s. Dumbo and Simba will become fast friends and collaborators in a coup against Scar. Dethroning the evil lion won’t be easy because Scar has aligned forces with Cruella De Vil (visiting Africa on safari) who wants to turn Simba into a coat. Her pet will be Sir Hiss from Robin Hood, which won’t make sense, but it’ll be a cute Easter Egg for fans.
Needless to say, Dumbo and Simba will require a lot of help to regain the throne for Mufasa, and luckily Tarzan — who starred in a forgettable 1999 Disney animated film — will have heard of the youngsters’ plight. His appearance will also plant the seed for a future spinoff for the underperforming character, a la Thor and Aquaman.
Tarzan will silently listen to Dumbo and Simba’s richly imagined plans to stop Scar. It involves a lot of circus tricks and a dancing meerkat. He shakes his head. It won’t work. But Tarzan knows someone who can make anything they imagine real: Tarzan’s ex-nanny from England, Mary Poppins (Emily Blunt). Just then, over a stunning vista of the jungle, she floats down from the sky umbrella in hand.
Next, Ms. Poppins opens a portal through the space-time continuum in which any Disney character can pass, including Aladdin’s Genie, Snow White, Peter Pan, and Frozen’s Elsa. They have reinforcements. But there’s a stunning twist. The villains can also slip through! Can the heroes come together to save the Disney Universe?
As you may realize, all of this story can’t fit into one movie. It’s going to have to fit into three different parts. Of three movies each. Plus a Disney+ streaming series that will explain the mythology of Poppins’ time portal and how it relates to Alice in Wonderland and Christopher Robin. Plus maybe a few standalone spinoffs. It’s just that simple.
Which is all to say, that if you don’t enjoy Tim Burton’s new Dumbo movie — because the characters are wooden, and CGI Dumbo lacks empathy, and the third-act is exhaustingly chase-driven — you’re mistaken. Because you haven’t seen the whole story. Only after you’ve seen The Lion King, Aladdin and Frozen II, plus future planned installments of the Disney universe — Lady and the Tramp, The Little Mermaid, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Mulan, and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil — then, and only then, can you say whether or not this was a serious waste of your time.