Today, Disney is remaking its animated classics into live-action films, whether they translate well or not. This trend mirrors Disney’s focus on direct-to-video animated sequels from the ’90s to the late 2000s. After the success of “The Return of Jafar,” Disney made numerous sequels like “The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride” and “Bambi II.”
While profitable, these sequels often fell short in quality. It seemed like every Disney animated film would get a straight-to-video sequel. However, not all ideas made it, like “Dumbo II,” which never moved past the concept stage, much to the relief of Disney purists.
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Surprising Fact: Disney Created a Trailer for ‘Dumbo II
In 2001, those who bought a special DVD edition of Dumbo were treated to a trailer for ‘Dumbo II,’ a project still in its early stages with no finished animation. The trailer featured storyboards and explanations from the creators.
The sequel’s plot revolved around Dumbo getting lost in a city alongside other animal children, introducing a range of new characters like an ostrich, hippo, and two bears – potential merchandise gold. Interestingly, these critters were described as talkative, in contrast to the mute Dumbo from the original.
‘Dumbo II’ seemed poised for a cutesy, child-centric approach, a stark contrast to the original’s dark and strange themes. The original ‘Dumbo’ had its share of issues, including controversial elements like the crow caricatures and problematic lyrics. Yet, it embraced a unique darkness that made it memorable.
The world of ‘Dumbo’ was cruel and unpredictable, a striking contrast to its adorable animal characters. ‘Dumbo II’ appeared to simplify the story and tone for a quick profit, much like many other Disney direct-to-video sequels. However, unlike the others, ‘Dumbo II’ never went beyond the trailer stage.
Exploring the Mystery: Why ‘Dumbo’ Remained Sequel-Free
In 2013, screenwriter Robert Reece shared insights about his time on ‘Dumbo II.’ The project was shelved shortly after the trailer’s DVD release. They briefly explored CG animation for Dumbo, but veteran Disney employee Joe Grant disapproved. Reece rejoined in 2005 with a plot involving Dumbo’s father.
However, when John Lasseter took over Disney animation in 2006, Disney’s direct-to-video sequels era ended, and ‘Dumbo II’ was abandoned again. DisneyToon Studios had difficulty making sequels to early Disney classics, with only one sequel to the first five animated films produced.
Even ‘Bambi II,’ the exception, was released late, indicating a struggle to turn these classics into franchises. While DisneyToon Studios considered sequels for formative Disney movies like ‘Pinocchio,’ ‘Dumbo II’s demise suggests it was particularly challenging for such iconic titles.
The reasons why DisneyToon Studios found it easier to make sequels to Aladdin than Dumbo are uncertain, but there are a few possibilities. Aladdin was the only one of the initial five Disney classics featuring a character from the lucrative Disney Princess lineup.
Titles like Pinocchio and Dumbo, while seminal, may have been less appealing for marketing without the princess factor. These films were also older, potentially seen as less relevant to 21st-century children. Moreover, the pressure to do justice to a sequel like ‘Dumbo II’ may have been much higher due to the original’s significant legacy.
Regardless of the reasons, DisneyToon Studios’ struggles prevented ‘Dumbo II’ from becoming a reality. Disney later invested heavily in a live-action remake of ‘Dumbo’ in 2019, spending roughly $170 million, which highlighted the challenges of expanding a simple 64-minute story from 1941.
While the direct-to-video sequels were often criticized for their quality, they didn’t drag on for nearly two hours like Tim Burton’s ‘Dumbo’ feature. This serves as a reminder that Hollywood can find new ways to disappoint, even in revisiting beloved classics.
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