The latest Disney live-action update of one of its beloved animated films, Dumbo, literally brought the circus to town for the film's world premiere in Hollywood on Monday night (March 11).
With a jumbo-sized pre-screening party going on in the background — complete with circus decor, old-fashioned food carts, and more — the cast, producers, and director Tim Burton hit the red carpet to discuss the film.
Burton's version adds a slew of human characters to the core classic story of the baby elephant who, despite his incredible ability to use his oversized ears as wings, only wants to be reunited with his mother.
"You always kind of hover around the same thematic thing, because that's how I feel," Burton tells SYFY WIRE on the red carpet when asked how Dumbo relates to his earlier films. "Unfortunately I've been feeling that way for a long time [laughs]. You know, it's a story I relate to, a character I relate to, the situation, the symbolism ... it's all something that's easy for me to understand."
It's a painful and petty ostracization that poor little Dumbo goes through at first when his big floppy ears are initially revealed. Only a totem — a "magic" feather — gives him the courage to soar.
"My feather was being an actor, because I was very — not shy, but just odd," says Danny DeVito, who makes his third appearance in a Tim Burton film as the circus owner Max Medici.
"I'm a creature," continues the man who played the Penguin for Burton some 27 years ago in Batman Returns. "I went through life as a teenager that way and I found my feather, which is getting onstage in front of everybody and making them laugh and smile. That's what makes me feel good."
"I identify with Dumbo and everything Dumbo went through," says British actor Joseph Gatt, who plays Skellig, the sinister right-hand man of ruthless entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere (Michael Keaton), who buys Max's circus just to own Dumbo. "Because I went through that as a child. Also I love elephants and animals and would never, ever behave in the way Skellig does."
For Colin Farrell, who plays the circus's champion horse rider Holt Farrier — traumatized after returning from World War I by the loss of both his arm and his wife — the notion of being embraced for one's own unique identity is the very reason he wanted to join the picture.
"What a ridiculous thought — the idea that how somebody is born brings shame to their people or themselves," exclaims the Irish actor passionately. "So the message of inclusion and celebrating differences are ones that I hold close to my heart. It's gorgeous to be part of something that has those messages and presents them in a really accessible and beautiful way."
Making Dumbo — both the film and the title character — accessible to modern audiences was crucial to the success of the movie.
"We knew that Dumbo had to look real, but at the same time baby elephants can look like little old men if you let them," says production designer Rick Heinrichs, who has worked with Burton on 11 different films.
"We knew that this character was going to be the emotional heart of the film, it had to appeal to the audience, we knew the audience was going to identify with it, and this being a Tim Burton film, we had a license to stylize it and play with it."
The important thing for all involved was staying true to the spirit of the original 1941 animated gem while making a movie with a message, characters, and visuals that could strike a chord with audiences 78 years later.
"Hopefully this is a classic like the first one and it will hold up on its own," says producer Katterli Frauenfelder. "Of course revisitations are a big thing now, but I think this will be one that will stand on its own."
Dumbo opens in theaters on March 29.