Disney’s Dumbo is the latest live-action adaptation – and it has enough heart, stunning visuals — and cute baby elephant moments to give you all the feels.

Directed by Tim Burton, Dumbo tells the tale of a young elephant, whose oversized ears enable him to fly. He becomes the star attraction for a struggling traveling circus, run by Max Medici (Danny DeVito), and endears himself to his caretaker (Colin Farrell) and his two children (Nico Parker and Finley Hobbins). But when Medici sells out to a bigger competitor (Michael Keaton) for an act with his star aerialist (Eva Green), things go awry when secrets are revealed.

At the recent press day, Burton and his cast talk about making Dumbo and how it fits into that certain Tim Burton sensibility.

On what it’s like working with Tim Burton:

DANNY DEVITO: I think he’s brilliant. I think he’s just a genius. Like his artistry. It’s just astounding. You give a talented person like Tim a subject like Dumbo with all the great messages and metaphors. And what does he do? He sends it off into the stratosphere. He’s one of a kind. He’s just amazing and we love him so much.

MICHAEL KEATON:  It’s true. I’m sorry. You’re going to get sick of this. But it’s a rare thing to work with an original. To be in the thick of it. To be right in the middle of a piece of art.

 

On what they love about the characters in Dumbo:

TIM BURTON:  I just liked, it was just the idea of it. The idea of a flying elephant and the character that doesn’t quite fit into the world and how somebody with a disadvantage makes it an advantage. It just felt very close to the way I felt about things. It was just a very pure simple image. Like all the old Disney fables had that kind of simple symbolism for real emotions.

And it’s the heart, about family. What I also liked about it was the human parallel story. This character Holt [Colin Farrell] who comes back from a war. He doesn’t have an arm. He doesn’t have a wife. He doesn’t have a job. He’s trying to find his place in the world. And all of the characters actually are in that way… everybody is trying to find their place in the world. Like Dumbo. And using disadvantage to advantage. Lots of nice themes, but in a very simple framework.

COLIN FARRELL: I think everyone in the character is at odds with either their past or what’s going on in the present or both. So I was playing a father who was disenfranchised from his kids, disenfranchised from a life that he left behind that is completely different by the time he comes back from fighting in the first war. He’s physically a different man. He’s lost his left arm. He’s seen a lot of brutalities. We don’t get into all of that psychological stuff so heavily because we want the film to be able to be received with the importance of the messages that are in it rather than hitting them all over the head. But my characters’ journey was one in just accepting his position as father and how that meant that all he had to do really was get out of his children’s way and let them be who they are.

BURTON: For me, the reason I wanted to do it was like the old Disney movies had all these elements. They had joy. They had humor. They had… Well, death. You know. Everything. Stuff that is taboo subjects. We always had a mixture of those things. So like Colin was just saying. We tried to present these things without overdoing it. In a fable-like way, but then let it present itself and not just sort of dictate it and just show these people for what they’re going through and who they are.

Because Dumbo, it’s a heightened reality. There is two different things. There was one because it’s a weird story about weird family. It was very special to me to work with people that I’ve worked with. Michael, Eva, Danny, and Colin, I feel like I’ve worked with him for many years, because he’s got the same kind of spirit. And meeting Nico and Finley. Having like a family, a weird dysfunctional family, like a film is and like the movie circus is, which is very beautiful and important. The spirit of all of them really meant the world to me in terms of what the movie is and the spirit that they all put into it. Because it’s like a weird elephant, I had one thing in the back of my mind. All the people had to look kind of weird. Naturally. In a good way.

On what they love most about the circus:

BURTON:  None of it. It’s funny. I’ve made circus movies, but I never really liked the circus. I like the idea of it. I like the idea of that concept when you’re a child of running away to the circus. It’s just a phrase that sort of stuck with a lot of people. I think that’s the idea of not the circus per se. But the idea of being with a bunch of other weird people from around the world that can’t get regular jobs. That kind of a person.

NICO PARKER:  I think probably the contortionists. Like when they like climbing on top of each other, it just, because I could never do any of that. I just thought all of it was incredible. Then the cape top dancers as well. Because I got to watch that really recently. That was cool.

FINLEY HOBBINS:  Probably the jugglers. Because you have an excuse if you like go wrong, you can throw stuff at people’s faces.

GREEN:  Me, I would have to say trapeze people, aerialists. I’ve always been petrified of heights. Like a real phobia. And thanks to Mr. Tim Burton, I have overcome my fear.

BURTON:  Anybody who needs any help with any problems, fears, you don’t like clowns, heights, anything. I’m out in the lobby after the show. Thank you.

DANNY DEVITO:  I really love the aerialists, the high wire, tightrope walkers. They really astound me. So its balance and grace and daring and all of the things that I lack.

MICHAEL KEATON:  Me? The snake. I actually could be the snake. Not the snake handler. The snake. I’m with him. [Laughter] The aerialists and Eva. First of all, more than anything, what I wanted to do is fly. That would be it for me. I have those flying dreams. And I say that I like everybody has a flying dream. But the aerialists do knock me out and all that stuff and the trapeze artists. Yeah.

 

Green on doing the aerial stunts and conquering her fear of heights:

EVA GREEN: I had the most amazing circus people who were very patient, very kind with me. Because I was absolutely petrified. I thought I would never be able to do that. For like two months, every day, I trained. You need like a very strong core as well, to have very strong abs, very strong arms. Then little by little, I went higher and higher and higher. And that was amazing. I found a trick — to sing, in French, like whoa, you know, off you go. You swear and you sing. I surprised myself. I’m just in awe of the circus people because they work so hard. They’re so dedicated. They train and train. They’re ready to sacrifice themselves almost. Because they constantly have to overcome their fear as they put themselves in mortal danger. Actors, we’re nothing compared to those kind of super heroes.

BURTON:  She did mostly everything. There was a couple of times when her person that she works with did things. But no, Eva, she worked. Nobody really knows this except people working on the movie how hard she worked at it. She could do everything. There were certain cases where her person did it for her, but that’s the amazing thing about her. She did it.

On working with the CG Dumbo:

BURTON:   Ed.

HOBBINS:  Ed.

DEVITO:  Ed was…

BURTON:  He looked a weird insect. But he had this green suit on. It was extended length. But Ed was amazing because he actually studied elephants and movements. So you guys. You remember Ed, don’t you?

PARKER:  Yeah.

BURTON:  He was great. But he really got into like the feel and movements of elephants. Even though he looked like a weird insect, so we had help.

FARRELL:  It did give him an awful hard time because it was unavoidable. He was dressed in a green spandex suit for five months.

PARKER:  Because we were with him like the whole time. And then like I think midway through we found out that he was in Tarzan and could do like the ape walk. Oh my.

HOBBINS:  Oh. We took such advantage of that.

PARKER:  So many times.

HOBBINS:  So when we first found out, we were like oh yeah, it’s cool. And then we were like okay, do it. Then we were like do it again. Do it again. Do it again. Then we were like, teach us how to do it. Teach us how to do it. That went on for about a couple of weeks. Maybe. No. We were like quite harsh on Ed.

KEATON:  In my scenes, I didn’t use Ed. I used Daniel Day-Lewis. He’d come in and do the scenes for me. [Laughter].

On Michael Keaton’s wig in this movie:

KEATON: Yeah. I regret the wig in a lot of ways. But it’s so great and weird and odd and kind of off putting — and so well done. What happened was, I thought about it. I thought “Man, I really don’t like sitting in the makeup chair for very long or hair and makeup. I just don’t like to be there.” I thought I’m not going to say anything. I’m not going to say anything. And [Burton] didn’t say anything. But once I showed up and we were, I mean, Colleen Atwood is an unbelievable genius, as is truly Daniel Day-Lewis. [Laughter]. No, no, I mean that. I mean that. That’s a supreme compliment. She’s so unbelievable. Anyway, I showed up and Tim was there. And he and I and Colleen were starting to, that’s where you really start. Once you feel the clothes and you start walking around in it. I had in the back of my head, I thought, “Oh man. I’m not going to mention the wig. Don’t mention the wig. Don’t say anything about a wig.” And as soon as I said, “Hey, this is probably a dumb idea. What do you think about a wig?” And then [Burton’s] eyes lit up. Now I’ve got to wear this stupid wig. But I dug the wig. The wig now has its own agent by the way.

BURTON: But it’s weird. Because it’s one of those like you would buy like on Hollywood Boulevard.

 

On what kids will take away from the movie:

FARRELL: The same thing adults take away, from the importance of not just accepting the inherent difference that people have from each other in relation to each other but celebrating it. I think just as Tim was saying, there are simple messages that are very complex it seems to live in as we go through our lives. Those messages are messages of kindness and inclusion and all those kind of things. Or they’re just entertained for a couple of hours and take that as well.