Over the course of Tim Burton’s illustrious career, his most frequent collaborator is almost certainly composer Danny Elfman. All but three of Burton’s films have been scored by the former Oingo Boingo lead singer, having resulted in iconic scores such as Batman, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands and the Burton-produced animated classic The Nightmare Before Christmas. Their latest team-up is Burton’s new live action remake of the Disney animated classic Dumbo, which tells the tale of an elephant with oversized ears that give him the ability to fly. More importantly though, it’s the story of a child and their mother, which proved to be a big source of inspiration for Elfman.
In a new article from Variety, Elfman revealed that he broke a long-standing rule with the film by opting to write the film’s main theme far ahead of schedule, before he ever read the film’s script. He explained, “Thinking about the idea of a baby elephant and his mother, and the two being torn apart, I just thought of something innocent and sweet and sad. I went into my studio, spent 20 minutes writing it down and making a demo of it, and I stashed it away.”
When Elfman returned to the project a year later with Burton at hand, he found the file he’d labeled “Elephant” and found that the theme already fit the new iteration of Dumbo like a glove. As a result, “Dumbo’s Theme” has not changed from that original concept. Elfman added, “That theme had to play bittersweet, which I knew it could, but it also had to be frivolous and light, and more important, it had to be triumphant in a really grand way.”
Unsurprisingly for a Disney classic, the animated original has several memorable songs which Burton and Elfman have referenced or included in their new Dumbo, such as “Pink Elephants on Parade” and “Baby Mine.” Elfman stated, “This is a cultural icon and I was happy to pay homage.”
And now, don’t just take his word for it. Listen to the theme he constructed for Dumbo right here:
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