Tim Burton's 'Dumbo' Remake And Understanding Humans, The Cosmos Has Spoken

This is me. The Walt Disney Company

Today, thanks to Deadline, we learned Will Smith will not be in Disney and Tim Burton’s remake of Dumbo. Neither will many, many other people, as the size of a typical movie cast compared to the human population simply doesn’t allow for it.

In other news, Tim Burton is directing a live-action remake of Dumbo for Disney. Maybe having the guy whose signature style has curdled into self-parody remake a sublime 1941 classic sounds like a bad idea, but Disney seems to know what they’re doing. Who knows, maybe Burton’s Dumbo will be great (like Sleepy Hollow), instead of poo (like Alice in Wonderland).

But forget about Burton. You know that feeling when you learn about something new and then, within hours or days, you hear about it again or someone references your new bit of knowledge so perfectly it’s like a cosmic force teed you up? Like, you read the Wikipedia page about Georgism and the very next day you’re watching the music video for Pusha T’s "Crutches, Crosses, Caskets” and you hear “swordfish / my reality is more fish / banana clips for all you curious Georgists” (I’m still trying to figure out “I’m the L. Ron Hubbard of the cupboard”).

Or maybe he’s just saying “Georges”?

Either way, you know what I’m talking about. Kismet. Serendipity. Providence or coincidence.

I read an enlightening quote about Dumbo from Elif Batuman’s künstlerroman The Idiot and then this really plain Dumbo casting news happened. I choose to believe this was the cosmos, whispering. Here’s the passage, tweeted by memoirist Patricia Lockwood (and RTed by Helen Macdonald, Star Wars nerd and author of the best book you’ll read this year or any year, H is for Hawk).

“I found myself remembering the day in kindergarten when the teachers showed us Dumbo: a Disney movie about a puny, weird-looking circus elephant that everyone made fun of. As the story unfolded, I realized to my amazement that all the kids in the class, even the bullies, the ones who despised and tormented the weak and the ugly, were rooting against Dumbo’s tormentors. Over and over they laughed and cheered, both when Dumbo succeeded and when bad things happened to the bullies. But they’re you, I thought to myself. How did they not know? They didn’t know. It was astounding, an astounding truth. Everyone thought they were Dumbo.”

Like all simple wisdom, it either strikes you or it doesn’t. Perhaps it even sounds childish and obvious. But looking around at nearly any discussion in this distraught society reveals its utility. You don’t have to like anybody or ally with enemies. This isn’t one of those calls for extending an olive branch to fascists. But understanding bullies and villains and ideological opponents begins with acknowledging that they center their narratives exactly the same as you do. Knowing others and acknowledging truthfully how humans operate doesn’t obligate anyone toward compassion or outreach — though it presents that option. It could be an opening for radical empathy or good tactics in your ongoing crusade. It’s up to you, because you’re Dumbo. (No, but I’m Dumbo, really.)

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