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, Dreamland. Much to her surprise, he casts her in a new act alongside the flying elephant, but teaming up with Dumbo and the Farriers reveals more to her 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 Colette. But there was a small problem. "I was absolutely terrified of heights," she said. "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 Katherine 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," she said. "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," she said. "I just took her for a little 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."
Green said, "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 are actually some lightning interactions casting shadows on her as they fly."
As Queen of the Heavens in Vandevere's show, Colette 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 she is, she has a very vibrant auburn red wig with waves.
Role in the film
As the circus is traveling to Arkansas, Colette is introduced to the Medici Bros. Circus. She then enters Dumbo's pen where she introduces herself to him. When the circus arrives in Arkansas, Colette tells Joe and Milly Farrier to know how to make Dumbo fly, to which it is explained that he needs a feather in order for him to do so. Colette practices for her next act just as Milly gives Dumbo a feather to help her. After practicing, she tells Holt Farrier that she was a street performer in Paris to which Vandevere tells her that Milly will show her how her act with Dumbo works. Later that night, it begins after the Pink Elephant sequence where she tells him to fly across the tent 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, Mrs. Jumbo, calling her from Nightmare Island much to Vandervere's anger and the audience is dissatisfied with the performance.
Back at Vandevere Enterprises, Colette asks Vandevere about why there are no nets during the performance, to which he explains to her that they are only for rehearsal, much to his merciless behavior. Later, Holt arrives toward Colette who explains that Joe and Milly should believe in him. Furthermore, she participates in her next act with Dumbo which she plans to be successful. Holt manages to use a knife to make a hole in the tent to help them escape together. As Joe and Milly follow her riding on him, they fly into the control center as they pull levers to open the gate just as they escape from Vandevere. As the Farriers and Dumbo arrive, everyone bids their final farewell to him before he and Mrs. Jumbo are released into the wild.
When the circus is re-established as the Medici Family Circus with a new policy to not include wild animals, Colette continues her duty as performer by doing so alongside Holt.