"He's not just an incredible visual artist, he's just got tons of heart," said the film's star, Colin Farrell. "He's the right guy because at the center of this film ... are themes like inclusion and celebrating difference and acceptance."
Farrell, who plays Holt Farrier, a wounded World War I veteran who along with his children seek to protect Dumbo from those who would exploit him. Michael Keaton said Burton has successfully created a movie that will appeal to families, but also fans of Burton's view-askew style. "This movie is so stunningly beautiful," Keaton explained. "And it's got Tim's fingerprints on it."
The film, out Friday, is the latest in a string of live-action versions of Disney animated classics dating back to Burton's 2010 film "Alice in Wonderland." ''Dumbo" is the first of three such adaptations coming this year alone, with "Aladdin" arriving in theaters in May and "The Lion King" set for a July release.
Burton wanted "Dumbo" to deliver something new while remaining faithful to its source. "It's of its time so ... for me the whole reason to do it was in the spirit of what Dumbo is about," Burton said last week at the film's London premiere. "The flying elephant represents so many things about you know like being different and using a disadvantage to an advantage."
Still, he said in a separate interview earlier this month that he wants moviegoers to draw their own conclusions about what they're seeing. For Danny DeVito, who plays the owner of a small-time circus where Dumbo first takes off, the story is an allegory for how divided the world has become and how "we look at people as different than we are.
"Dumbo is so different, with his big ears and you know, people make fun of him, or think of him as a threat ... and actually what we should be doing is embracing each other, and enjoying each other, and allowing each other to live and have a good time," DeVito said.
The film is a reunion of Keaton, DeVito and Burton, who worked together on the 1992 hit "Batman Returns." The actors' roles have switched somewhat for the Disney film, with Keaton playing a treacherous P.T. Barnum-esque showman looking to exploit Dumbo, while DeVito lacks the menace of his penguin character from the superhero sequel.
DeVito, who has since worked with Burton on "Mars Attacks" and "Big Fish," said those earlier collaborations helped build trust and make a better film. Burton said he hadn't seen Keaton in 20 years before filming "Dumbo" but working with the actor was instantly familiar. "That's a strange feeling to have in your life: when you haven't seen somebody for so long, then it's — boom! — like I just saw him yesterday."
Watson contributed from London.