We’re taking the time to honour pop culture’s prominent pachyderms, just as Disney’s Dumbo is flying back onto the big screens in a live action remake. Elephant lovers, no need to wait till September 22, which is National Elephant Appreciation Day.

In Dumbo (2019), struggling circus owner Max Medici (Danny DeVito) enlists a former star and his two children to care for Dumbo, a baby elephant born with freakishly large ears. When the family discovers that the animal can fly, Dumbo becomes the main attraction, raking in huge audiences and revitalising the failing circus. The elephant’s unusual skillset also draws the attention of V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), an entrepreneur who wants to showcase Dumbo in his latest, larger-than-life entertainment venture.

From talking elephants in animated films to real life elephants appearing alongside Hollywood’s A-listers, we take a look at the elephants who left their mark in movies.

1. Horton from Horton Hears A Who (2008)

Horton ranks high on the popularity polls of elephant movies. He often places second behind Dumbo, Disney’s big-ear elephant with an inspirational tale to tell according to online polls such as Ranker.We can see why. Much like Dumbo’s story, Dr Seuss’s 1954 kids’ book has a meaningful message to share.

Horton hears voices coming from a speck of dust. He discovers that the tiny citizens of Whoville live on the particle. The entire city is in danger of being destroyed.

Voiced by Hollywood’s funnyman Jim Carrey in the film version which hit silver screens 10 years ago, Horton declares: “Even though you can’t see or hear them at all, a person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Horton trudges on single-mindedly with the mission, despite being taunted by fellow jungle dwellers. He overcomes multiple obstacles and saves the day.

There’s something quite endearing about Horton. He is the wonderfully innocent character with a big heart which our sceptical world needs.

2. Rosie from Water for Elephants (2011)

Rosie the elephant is at the centre of an illicit romance. The circus’ resident veterinarian Jacob (Robert Pattinson) and star performer Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) work together to train Rosie and end up falling in love. They are both compassionate towards animals, unlike the cruel circus owner August (Christoph Waltz), who is married to Marlena. 

Leading man Robert was full of praise of his co-star, and said: “She was the best actor I ever worked with in my life.”

Sorry, Reese. Robert isn’t talking about you.  The lauded actor is Tai the elephant. It’s no wonder that Robert is impressed. 

Tai is a seasoned performer with an impressive resume. She starred in Britney Spear’s “Circus” music video and in multiple Hollywood flicks such as The Jungle Book (1994), and George of the Jungle (1997).


3. Bing Bong from Inside Out (2015) 

Bing Bong isn’t quite your usual elephant. But the character definitely hits the mark for being memorable.

Borne out of Pixar animators’ unbridled creativity, Bing Bong is an interesting hybrid of animals. He has an elephant’s definitive trunk. His whiskers and fluffy purple tail remind us of the Cheshire cat. He claims to be part-dolphin, though the resemblance isn’t quite obvious.

Beyond his strikingly odd appearance, we can’t forget Bing Bong’s relatable back story. The imaginary friend was once Riley’s favourite playmate. As our young protagonist Riley grows up, Bing Bong slowly fades into oblivion. He wants to continue his adventures with Riley, flying to the moon in a song-powered wagon.

He is struggling to stay relevant, and we totally get how he feels. Working professionals have to keep up with the latest technology to stay employable. Brick-and-mortar shops have to ride the unavoidable wave of e-commerce or face going out of business. Celebrities are worried that the new generations of stars will replace them in the hearts of fans. Bing Bong is everyone’s secret elephant.

4. Popeye from Pop Aye (2017)

How do you audition an elephant for a movie?

Singaporean film-maker Kirsten Tan would know. She auditioned more than 200 elephants in Thailand for Pop Aye,  her award-winning, atypical road trip film. The story chronicles a soul-searching journey taken by a disillusioned Thai architect and his elephant companion Popeye.

Likening the process to “buying a dog”, she said in an interview: “You just be with them and you can just kind of sense them and suss them out.”

Ultimately, she decided to cast Bong. It was the first elephant she had set her eyes on in Thailand during her research trip a year before casting began.

Describing Bong as the Brad Pitt of the elephants, she said in an interview that the animal did not make the cut at first because it was too good-looking. The part was for a sadder, weary-looking elephant.

But no elephant moved the director the same way Bong did with its benevolent, kind eye gaze. So Bong was cast.


5. Dumbo from Dumbo (2019)

Disney’s favourite flying elephant Dumbo is back on the big screens. Celebrated director Tim Burton has reimagined the 1941 Disney classic as a live-action film, building on the inspiring story with a timeless message of how it’s more than alright to be different.

Baby elephant Dumbo is the target of teasing because of its over-sized ears. But its perceived deformity is what saves the struggling circus. It turns out Dumbo can fly, thanks to its gravity-defying ears. The peculiar pachyderm becomes a star attraction and draws in the crowds.

In real life, our star Dumbo never turned up on the set of the live-action remake. Dumbo isn’t being a diva. It isn’t that his ego is as enormous as its ears.

Dumbo was brought to live by computer-generated imagery (CGI).

“It is weird that you’re making a movie with all these great actors and the main character is not there,” said Burton in an interview with Reuters.

This means the Dumbo cast had to use plenty of imagination acting opposite actors dressed in green spandex onesies. Speaking from his experience as one of the stand-ins, Director Burton said: “You should see me get on all fours. Throwing my trunk all over the place.”

Burton just seared that hilarious image in our brains. Time to catch him in action in Dumbo, which is out in cinemas now.