The main focus of the upcoming live-action remake of the Disney animated classic Dumbo is a CGI elephant and the kids who teach it to fly in the circus. However, the element of the film that’s almost as compelling is the cast that director Tim Burton put together for it.
In addition to casting Colin Farrell and Eva Green in major roles, Burton also staged a Batman Returns reunion for the ages. Both Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito appear in major roles for the movie, marking the first time in 27 years that the pair have shared the screen since 1992’s Batman Returns, another of Burton’s films.
For DeVito, finding out he’d be sharing scenes with Keaton once again was a big part of what excited him about the project. “When Tim called a year ago or whenever it was and said he was making the movie, I was really thrilled to be able to be part of it,” the actor said at a press conference for Dumbo. “And then the joy factor went up through the roof when I heard that Michael was in it with me.”
Perhaps even more excitingly, though, was that the roles were reversed this time around. “The first thing he reminded me was, he got to be the hero, and I got to be the bad guy,” Keaton remembered. “He was just thrilled with that.”
In Batman Returns, Keaton obviously played the titular Batman, while DeVito played Penguin, which he described as “the gross Penguin, grunting and groaning and stuff.” Now the tables have turned and Keaton is no longer the masked vigilante hero. Instead, he’s a nefarious businessman who wants to exploit the elephant. DeVito’s character, meanwhile, is the owner of a small circus that gets swept up by Keaton’s V. A. Vandevere.
It’s not just acting together that brought joy to Keaton and DeVito, though. They also relished the opportunity to work with Burton again–DeVito’s last collaboration with the director was 2003’s Big Fish, while Keaton’s was Batman Returns.
“It’s a rare thing to work with an original,” Keaton said of Dumbo’s director. “And to be in the thick of it. To be right in the middle of a piece of art.” And for DeVito, Burton’s commitment to his work is what makes everything turn out so special. “Tim just works 24/7 when he’s making a movie, keeping everything going, keeping the plates spinning, keeping all the balls in the air, keeping everything moving,” he said. “All the moving parts congealing. Everything going together. So I feel like he’s an inspiration when we’re on the set and it pushes you to new heights.”
What’s more, DeVito explained, Burton’s dedication to his vision creates a familiar feeling on set. “We’re all the weirdos. But there is one really weird daddy down in the end. He’s like pulling all the strings. And so we were really thrilled to be together.”
“Welcome to the island of misfit toys,” Burton added.
Dumbo is in theaters on March 29.