For Tim Burton’s remake of the 1941 Disney classic Dumbo, the prolific filmmaker reassembled his Dark Knight and Penguin from Batman Returns to play alongside the soaring circus elephant. 27 years later, Burton opted to give Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito a different roles in his film to play this time around. Looks like DeVito couldn’t get enough of the role-reversal, per his recent words:
In Batman, [Keaton] plays the good guy. Now in Dumbo, I play the good guy and he plays the bad guy. I needle him about it all the time.
Insert DeVito’s penguin chuckle here. The character actor is well-known for playing a signature baddie, especially in 1992’s Batman Returns, alongside Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, along with his other iconic roles of Mr. Wormwood in Matilda and his longtime mischief as Frank on It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. He loved the idea of going back to playing a character of a softer, kind-hearted nature with Disney’s Dumbo, especially since Keaton would now be the one he gets to steal the good guy glory from.
In the family-friendly flick, Danny DeVito plays Max Medici, a ringmaster of a financially struggling circus who is approached by Michael Keaton’s V. A. Vandevere, a powerful entrepreneur who has bigger plans and dollar signs in his eyes for his popular spectacle Dumbo soon becomes.
Michael Keaton recently pulled off another villainous role in Spider-Man: Homecoming in 2017, so it’s not a big surprise for audiences. Danny DeVito’s recent comments to Entertainment Weekly seem to indicate a fondness for how the tables have turned since their last movie together. Although, there’s another reason why he was attracted to taking on a more friendly role in Dumbo. In his words:
Sometimes I embarrass my kids. On Sunny, I do a lot of crazy things. Sometimes I cringe when I think about how this is gonna play with my kids. In Dumbo, I think they were all pretty happy. I’m in good shape with my kids.
In recent years, Danny Devito has been seen seldom on the big screen due to his hilarious 13 season stint as Frank on his FX comedy series, where the actor will do or say just about anything for a good bit. As you can imagine, the often twisted humor that’s a regular on the show doesn’t always play well with his children.
It’s certainly nice to see Danny DeVito back in a movie, and with Michael Keaton as they take on opposite dynamics from their Batman Returns roles. DeVito will also star in more family-friendly faire in the upcoming Jumanji sequel alongside Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black coming in December.
As far as Batman and Penguin go, the upcoming new iteration of the character from Matt Reeves is rumored to feature the two adversaries facing off once again, following Tim Burton’s 1992 take.