Colette is a French-born performer, accomplished aerialist, high-flying star and the sparkling presence on V.A. Vandevere's arm when he recruits Dumbo for his state-of-the-art amusement park called Dreamland. Much to Colette’s surprise, Vandevere casts her in a new act alongside the flying elephant, but teaming up with Dumbo and the family who cares for him reveals more to Colette about show business — and herself —than she ever imagined.
Behind the scenes
Producer Derek Frey says, “Colette’s relationship with V.A. Vandevere harkens back to the heyday of Hollywood when moguls and moneyed men walked around with a young starlet on their arm.”
Eva Green was cast to portray the high-flying circus star. But there was a small problem. “I was absolutely terrified of heights,” says Green. “It was a real phobia, and I told Tim Burton at the beginning, ‘I don’t know if I will be able to do my stunts.’ But I trained with Katharine Arnold, who is the most amazing aerialist, and Fran Jaynes, who is the choreographer, and they really helped me to gain confidence and find the physicality of the character. It’s unbelievable to swing up really high and spin and do some weird choreography. It was a real challenge, and I’m quite proud of myself on that one.”
Before Green could take flight, however, she committed to an intense training regimen. “I had to train for four or five months to build a bit of muscle, because you have to be very strong as an aerialist,” says Green. “Your arms have to be quite strong, and you need strong abs as well. It’s like dancing in the air. You try to find the right posture and the right gestures.”
According to Arnold, Green made her fears clear in the beginning. “We put her in the chandelier, which is one of the props that we use in the film,” says Arnold. “I just took her for a litle walk and she was not having it: ‘I don’t like it. Stop, stop, stop.’ Fair enough. It’s not for everybody. But we kept working, and she was amazing. She worked really hard, developed lots of core strength, lots of upper-body strength — I think that made her feel much more confident. Now, she’s really happy in the air — she’s fantastic.”
Says Green, “I had the most amazing teachers: real circus people. That really helped me to get into the circus mood. Now I am an aerialist for real!”
For the shots in which Colette flies with Dumbo, visual effects, special effects and stunt teams worked in tandem to make it possible. “We used a motion base — essentially a hydraulic round gimbal rig, which you might see as part of some theme park rides,” says visual effects supervisor Richard Stammers. “Hydraulic pistons underneath allow the whole rig to move and soar, which simulates the flying of Dumbo. Separate actuators allow the head to bob up and down, separate from the body, and it also has moving ears so that as the ears flap up and down there’ areactually some lightning interactions casting shadows on her as they fly.”
As Queen of the Heavens in Vandevere’s show, Colette Marchant needed to look the part. “I took more of a silent-movie-star approach to her costumes,” says costume designer Colleen Atwood. “She’s circus glamorous, yet still set a bit apart from that world.”
When Colette is not performing, she has a brown bob, but when under the big top, she has a very vibrant auburn red wig with waves.
As the circus is moving to Arkansas, Colette is introduced to the Medici Bros. Circus. She then enters Dumbo's pen where she introduces herself to Dumbo. As the circus travels to Arkansas, Colette tells the children to know how to make Dumbo fly, to which it is explained that Dumbo needs a feather in order for him to fly. Colette practices for her next act just as Milly gives Dumbo a feather to help Colette. After practicing, Colette talks to Holt in the stable that she was a street performer in Paris to which Vandevere tells her that Milly will show her how Colette's act with Dumbo works. Later that night, Colette's act with Dumbo begins after the Pink Elephant sequence where Colette tells Dumbo to fly across the circus five times, much to Holt's worry about the lack of nets for the circus. The act, however, was unsuccessful because Dumbo hears his mother calling her from Nightmare Island much to Vandervere's anger and the audience dissatisfied with the performance.
Back at Vadevere Enterprises, Colette asks Vandevere about why there are no nets during performance, to which he explains to her that nets are only for rehearsal, much to his merciless behavior. Later, Holt arrives towards Colette who explains that his children should believe in their father. Furthermore, Colette participates in her next act as she plans on her act with Dumbo to be successful. Holt manages to use a knife to make a hole in the tent to help Colette and Dumbo escape together. As Joe and Milly follow Colette riding on Dumbo, Colette and Dumbo fly into the control center as Colette and Dumbo pull levers to open the gate just as she and Dumbo escape from Vandevere. As Holt's family and Dumbo arrive, the circus performers, including Holt's family, bid their final farewell to Dumbo before being released into the wild.
With the circus re-established with no wild animals allowed to perform, Colette continues her duty as performer of the Medici Family Circus performing alongside Holt.