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Tim Burton helps new Dumbo film take flight

Dumbo director Tim Burton wanted to create a 'grand intimacy' for live-action take on Disney tale

Disney's new live-action adventure Dumbo expands on the classic story where differences are celebrated, family is cherished and dreams take flight.

"The idea of running away to join the circus is a feeling that has always stuck with me," visionary US director Tim Burton said.

"I never really liked the circus with the captive animals, the clowns, the uncomfortable death-defying acts and - did I mention the clowns?

"But I understood the idea of it, joining a weird family of outcasts who don't fit in with normal society - people who are treated differently. That's what Dumbo is about."

The 1941 animated film was told through the eyes of Dumbo; the humans in the story were background characters, villains in many ways.

Opening here on March 28, Burton's reimagining not only expands the plot, its human characters are central to the narrative, serving to interpret the baby elephant's journey in a way that is wholly relatable.

"It's a very sweet story," said Burton, whose last film was 2016's Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children.

"The idea of a flying elephant is such a simple story. I think that's why it's quite popular and affected people so much, because of how primal and basic it is."

What was your connection with the animated film and how does it influence the live-action version?

I remember Dumbo as being a very simple and emotional story.

The character is symbolic of someone who doesn't quite fit in but turns his disabilities into an advantage. Our Dumbo embraces the spirit of the original - that experience of fear, loss, joy and humour all in one. It explores who you are and your place in the world, as well as the idea of family in all of its strange forms.

Describe the condition of the Medici Bros. Circus as the story begins and Danny DeVito's contribution as its owner and ringmaster.

It's right after the war when we come into the story, so times are tough. People are struggling. The circus is a big travelling circus that has hit hard times.

Danny is really good at making it real. No matter how big anything gets, we always try to give it emotional reality within its framework. He can show real emotion. His role as Medici completes his circus trilogy: Batman Returns, Big Fish and now Dumbo.

What does Eva Green bring to her aerialist character Colette Marchant?

Eva reminds me of a 1920s movie star. She's able to bring beautiful emotion to the role.

She's also afraid of heights. No one will ever know just how much she did in terms of training for this role and it was beautiful to see. She worked so hard. So now she's not only a great actress, but she's an aerial artist as well.

What did Michael Keaton bring to ruthless entrepreneur V.A. Vandevere?

Michael has a weird sort of contained energy that I really like - his way of tapping into that sociopathic business guy was great. It was fun to work with him again after such a long time - we picked up right where we left off.

Reconnecting with people like Danny, Michael and Eva means a lot to me. That connection really plays into this idea of a different kind of family.

Explain your desire to create grand sets for this film.

It goes back to what I felt about the original Disney movies.

There's a grand intimacy about them - they're done in a beautiful artful scale. And yet the themes and emotions are very simple and human and relatable.

We never wanted anything to get too big because the characters were the most important. For all of our world's bigness, we tried to create intimacy with the cast.

I always wanted to create my own amusement park, so it was fun to create (the state-of-the-art entertainment venue) Dreamland. We had all these amazing circus people that really helped make it big and weird and colourful.

What was your approach to creating Dumbo the elephant in computer graphics?

In terms of the design, we took a storybook character and created its own reality.

We wanted him to feel real, but yet be stylised so he'd fit into the world. It was an interesting challenge to do both. The key to everything is to create as much real emotion as possible - to be simple, truthful and pure.

What do you hope people take away from Dumbo?

Disney movies used to introduce feelings that I didn't quite know yet. It's how you learn about life in an abstract way. I hope this movie does that for people.

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