Sir David Attenborough is to explore the life of circus elephants and tell the tragic story of the elephant that inspired the beloved Disney movie ‘Dumbo’.
The film was announced by the BBC today as one of five new natural history commissions with documentaries on cats, urban wildlife and the T Rex, and the 91-year-old naturalist will take on the bittersweet tale of the real life Victorian elephant Jumbo, who became a firm favourite of Queen Victoria after he arrived in London Zoo in 1865.
Attenborough will examine the bones of Jumbo and try to explain how the animal died in captivity, as well as his life and state of mind during his years in the circus.
The ‘Planet Earth’ narrator will have unique access to Jumbo’s skeleton at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, and describe Jumbo’s life entertaining the British monarch and her children before he was controversially sold to PT Barnum’s circus in America.
His story is tragic because when he was taken away to the circus, he became aggressive, smashing his den, breaking his tusks and needing to be pacified by large amounts of alcohol.
Walt Disney’s animated film came along almost 80 years later in 1941, and it is being rebooted with a live action remake by director Tim Burton which is expected to be released in 2019.
Chris Packham will take on the fearsome Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur in the series.
The BBC also announced that it is making a three-part programme called Big Cats which promises to be “the ultimate, definitive celebration of the entire cat family, from the captivating big cats to the secret and surprising small cats”.
David has previously admitted he is curious as to whether the afterlife exists, and although he has not stated whether he is afraid of dying, he has revealed he is “scared” of being a burden and an “appalling encumbrance” on his children Robert and Susan – who he has with his ex-wife Jane Oriel – when he gets older.
Speaking about the one thing he wants to know before he passes, and if he is worried about his last day on earth, he said: “Whether there’s an afterlife.
“I’m scared of being an appalling encumbrance on my children.”