DUBAI: Danny DeVito has played lowlifes, criminals and scoundrels over the past 40 years, but he’s done so with such joy that he’s become perhaps one of the most beloved actors alive today.
In Disney’s “Dumbo,” DeVito plays Max Medici, the head of a travelling circus that discovers one of its young elephants can fly with its oversized ears. The film, a live-action remake of the classic animation, marks his fifth collaboration with director Tim Burton, and his third with Michael Keaton. The three last worked together in 1992’s iconic “Batman Returns,” with Keaton as Batman and DeVito as the villainous yet sympathetic Penguin. Here, DeVito and Keaton’s roles are reversed.
“By the way, he’s the bad guy in this movie and I’m the good guy!” DeVito exclaimed to Arab News.
Having the three of them back together was one of DeVito’s favorite parts of the experience.
“It was great as soon as we walked onto the set of Dumbo. Tim and I talked about doing Dumbo a year or two ago, and a while later he said that Michael Keaton was going to play the other part. I said,’ oh my god! This is really wonderful!’ I love Michael, we really get along, and it’s really completing the circle for us to work together again. We have a good time together,” says DeVito.
The original “Dumbo,” released in 1941 and watched by every generation since, was a scant 63 minutes long. The new film, at double that length, adds new facets to the story, exploring the human characters that are a part of Dumbo’s circus.
“I think it breathes now. We get all the great things from the wonderful Disney animated movie and you take all of those values of xenophobia, separation of mom and baby, and all the things we emotionally tune in with as living, caring sapiens. You bring that to Tim Burton, and he moves that into the 21st century,” said DeVito.
“Dumbo” is famously one of the most downbeat of the classic children’s films. Though many films today shy away from its wealth of emotion, the new film is not afraid to hold its audience in the film’s most heart-wrenching moments, something that DeVito feels was necessary.
“In my opinion, you need the yin and the yang. In order to have the explosion of satisfaction, the release of Dumbo and how Dumbo conquers all his fears with the help of his friends, the help of the kids, and the help of Medici, you have to have the other side of it,” DeVito said.
One of the benefits of having Dumbo be such a sad film is that it awakened the public to the plight of circus animals and the issue of animal rights, a conversation that the new Dumbo takes even further.
“We deal with animal rights in a big way in Dumbo. We all know that they should not be in cages and on display in the 21stcentury. We have to embrace the fact that the planet needs help, and in order to have the habitats of all the animals and creatures on the earth so that they can live in their own space,” DeVito noted.
Showing Dumbo’s struggle, however, is what also makes the film ultimate optimism so potent.
“When we resolve that in the movie, it’s much brighter — you walk into the sunlight, and everything is the way it should be. The movie is a great vehicle for the exploration of the real natural feelings. It holds the mirror up to life. With the artistry of Tim Burton, you get that added ‘umph’.”
Watch the trailer here: