There are a lot of charges you could levy against filmmaker Tim Burton—especially now, in the decidedly latter, Disney live-action remake portion of his career—but “misuse of Danny DeVito” probably isn’t one of them. Although their frequent collaborations have never matched the squalid heights of 1992's Batman Returns, in which DeVito gives one of the most intentionally un-charismatic supervillain performances of all time, the two men are long-time friends, to the point that DeVito even cast Burton in Hoffa, one of his own directorial outings. (Burton played a corpse.)
As such, it probably wasn’t super hard for the Mars Attacks director to talk his old buddy into appearing in his new film Dumbo, playing the mostly-kindly proprietor of the circus that takes in the titular terrifying CGI elephant baby and his mom. Still, Burton framed DeVito’s casting in a novel way when he called him up to offer it: As the third and final installment in their so-called “Circus Trilogy,” after Returns and 2003's Big Fish. When asked in a new Collider interview why Burton considers him his go-to ringmaster/nightmare circus impressario, DeVito simply noted, “I believe this is the completion of the Circus Trilogy. I don’t know, when he called, he said exactly that. He said, ‘We got to complete the Circus Trilogy.’”
To be fair, DeVito also noted that he would have done the movie whether Burton was pitching it as part of the Danny DeVito Wears A Top Hat Cinematic Universe or not; not only was he effusive in his praise for the director, but he’s also, strangely, kind of a Dumbo nut: At one point in the interview, he goes off on a long tangent about a scene cut from the original animated movie, going into detail about its “whacked” world where elephants are subservient to mice.
Anyway, it’s nice to confirm that Danny DeVito is still the kind of guy you can lure into a project by making it sound like J.R.R. Tolkien got his wires crossed with P.T. Barnum. Some things should never change.