Danny DeVito jokes that he and Michael Keaton swapped roles in Dumbo, after having starred together in Batman Returns. Tim Burton's DC superhero sequel hit theaters back in 1992 and marked the director's third collaboration with Keaton overall, after Beetlejuice and the 1989 Batman. It also served as the filmmaker's first time working with DeVito, who played a grosser-than-usual Penguin opposite Keaton's Caped Crusader. Burton and DeVito would go on to reunite eleven years later for Big Fish, where DeVito played a circus ringmaster who's secretly a werewolf... at least, in the (larger than life) stories told by the film's protagonist.
After playing a Batman villain who leads a violent circus troupe and a ringmaster with an... unusual problem, DeVito is taking on his most grounded circus-related role yet for Dumbo. The flying elephant movie also reunites him with Burton and Keaton, with the twist being that the latter is playing the villain this time around, unlike in Batman Returns. DeVito, for his part, seems happy to be working with his old friends again, and a little amused that he gets to be the good guy for a change.
Naturally, the subject of his Batman Returns reunion with Keaton and Burton came up during our interview with DeVito on the London set for Dumbo. Here's what he had to say on the matter:
It's really fun that Michael's here, and it's also very interesting that he's... you know, the last... we've done a couple movies together, Michael and I. But the last movie with Tim - and Michael and I - of course, we're both in suits. Right? I was in the Penguin suit and he was in the Batman suit. He was playing the good guy in that movie; I'm the good guy in this movie. So it's a little bit of an evolution in here.
Keaton costars in Dumbo as V. A. Vandevere, a shifty entrepreneur who - upon learning that Dumbo can fly - tries to make him part of a new business venture known as Dreamland. The character is a fresh addition to the Disney story, and is one of several new elements that sets Burton's Dumbo apart from its animated predecessor. That goes double for DeVito's character here; Max Medici, a kindly ringmaster whose struggling circus gets an unexpected boost when Dumbo puts his enormous ears to use and becomes their star attraction. While there was a nameless ringmaster who owned Dumbo and his mother in Disney's 1941 animated film, he was the closest thing the movie had to a true villain and has very little to nothing in common with DeVito's character from the live-action version (their occupations aside).
As DeVito noted, Dumbo certainly changes up things up from his last movie with Burton and Keaton, in that regard. Medici is the polar opposite of DeVito's Oswald Cobblepot from Batman Returns in terms of manner and appearance, and any comparison between them is all the more amusing for it. Still, as much fun as it is to see DeVito play someone a little gentler around the edges than he has in Burton movies past, it's equally entertaining to see Keaton bringing a true villain to life here. The Oscar-nominee has played bad guys before (most recently in Spider-Man: Homecoming), but the conniving Vandevere looks and feels different from any character Keaton's played before. That he's playing the role in an unexpected Batman Returns reunion with DeVito - one that takes the form of Dumbo, no less - is pretty funny, too.
- Dumbo (2019) release date: Mar 29, 2019