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How Dumbo completes Tim Burton's secret 'Circus Trilogy'


March 29th sees the release of the live-action Dumbo movie, Disney's latest classic updated for the 21st century.

As well as a whole host of acting talent including the likes of Colin Farrell and Eva Green, the film boasts one of modern cinema's most artistic directors, Tim Burton. Famous for his gothic tones and wild imagination, Burton has a whole array of amazing films to his name, including The Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman and Edward Scissorhands.

Burton is perhaps a surprising choice to make a wholesome, family-friendly Disney movie, but there's no denying he has the talent to make it amazing. And upon directing this film, Burton has in fact completed a hidden 'Circus Trilogy'. Here's what you need to know... 

Batman Returns (1992)

Following the enormous success of 1989's Batman, the movie that reinvented the superhero epic as gothic blockbuster entertainment, Burton directed the even more atmospheric and eccentric sequel Batman Returns.

Michael Keaton returned as Batman (his third time working with Burton at that point). In the film Keaton's Dark Knight goes up against Danny DeVito's nefarious Penguin – he's an abandoned child who is raised by penguins form the Gotham Zoo and ends up as leader and ringmaster of the Red Triangle Gang, a group of circus performers who help him reign terror on the city.

Wait… circus performers and two Batman films starring Michael Keaton. Could Michael Keaton be the mystery man? Could Batman, Batman Returns and Dumbo be the trilogy? As weird and fun as that would be, it's not the answer… but it's a good guess.

Big Fish (2003)

Tim Burton's fantasy masterpiece is a shining example of his work within the genre and may point to why he was chosen to sit in the chair for Dumbo.

His imagination and storytelling in this film are so vivid you almost don't realise the deeper themes of familial relationship and reconciliation in the film's plot. The film's main character, yarn-spinner Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor), joins Calloways Circus where he meets and falls in love with his future wife (played by Alison Lohman).

He is helped to win her heart by the kindly ringmaster Amos Calloway played by… Danny DeVito. Oh, and Calloway also happens to be a werewolf – well it wouldn't be Burton otherwise, would it?

That's right: two circus movies and both starring Danny DeVito, the secret star of the Tim Burton Circus Trilogy. He's the Bale to his Nolan, the Freeman top his Jackson the… you get the idea.

Dumbo (2019)

So, we get to the last film of this secret trilogy. Burton's biggest strength is his ability to create fantasy worlds and draw you into them, to make you connect with oddball characters and really care about their journey, which is the core element of Dumbo. After all, it's about one little, big-eared, flying elephant's journey to discover his true destiny. 

Where exactly does his journey take him? Well, there's one very important place… the circus. Who is the ringmaster of that circus where Dumbo is the main attraction? That's right, Danny DeVito... the circle is complete. DeVito plays Max Medici, who promises to help adorable Dumbo on his adventures.

And to further reinforce the connection with Burton's earlier movies, Dumbo also stars Michael Keaton as nefarious circus owner V.A. Vandervere.

So, there you have it. A lot of great directors have their trilogies, and now Tim Burton has one of his own.

Make sure you see the final instalment of Tim Burton's 'Circus Trilogy' when Dumbo is released in Cineworld Cinemas nationwide on 29th March 2019.

Marvyn Wilson is a writer who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.