LOS ANGELES — Despite what you might imagine, Tim Burton has never cared for circuses.

Sure, many of Burton’s films – from “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” to “Beetlejuice” to “The Nightmare Before Christmas” to “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” – have featured the same blend of fantasy, whimsy and visual spectacle one finds under the big top. And, yes, the circus is the setting of his latest movie, a live-action re-imagining of the much-loved 1941 Disney animated film “Dumbo” that hit theaters Friday. But actual circuses have never been his thing.

“It’s funny, but I truly never liked the circus,” Burton, 60, said on a recent afternoon, clad from head to toe in black and radiating an impish, hyper-caffeinated vibe. “You’ve got animals being tortured, you’ve got death-defying acts, and you’ve got clowns. It’s like a horror show. What’s to like?”

There is one thing Burton does appreciate about the circus, though: the idea that it represents a thrown-together family of oddballs. “This idea of feeling weird and wanting to join this mixed family of misfits and weirdos – that’s sort of the appeal of it,” said Burton, who, over the years, has created his own rotating circus of collaborators, several of whom – including Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito and Eva Green – star in “Dumbo.” “Making films is a dysfunctional family. That was the lure of the circus for me.”

While the titular giant-eared flying elephant takes center stage in Burton’s “Dumbo,” now as a CGI creation, the underdog pachyderm is placed in an entirely new story, featuring Colin Farrell as a wounded World War I vet who returns to a struggling circus run by DeVito’s ringleader and helps train the baby Dumbo, while Keaton plays a ruthless businessman who tries to exploit the elephant’s special talents for his own ends. The film is just the latest in a string of live-action remakes of Disney animated hits, including 2017’s “Beauty and the Beast,” 2016’s “The Jungle Book” and 2010’s Burton-directed “Alice in Wonderland,” with “The Lion King” due this July.

“When I heard Tim Burton was doing ‘Dumbo,’ I thought, ‘What a gorgeous marriage of material and imagination that would be,'” said Farrell. “For 20-plus years now, I’ve been a fan of his. There was an element of wish fulfillment to it. I leapt at the opportunity.”

“The whole movie is very Tim – he understands the heart of the misunderstood, and Dumbo is the perfect example for that,” said Green, who plays a French trapeze artist and has also worked with Burton on 2012’s “Dark Shadows” and 2016’s “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.” “He was like, ‘Yeah, this is “Dumbo,” but it can’t be too sweet.’ He still wanted an edge and something real, not rainbows and unicorns and all that.”

As a newcomer to Burton’s troupe, Farrell was fascinated to watch the director at work. “He’s very frenetic,” Farrell said. “He’s all over the place, and there are a lot of gestures and unfinished sentences. Every cell in his body vibrates with energy. To give birth to the worlds he’s given birth to – it’s a deep well of creative strength and imagination that he draws from.”

Having appeared in several of those worlds, Keaton and DeVito have a deep familiarity with Burton’s way of working. Both starred in Burton’s 1992 superhero sequel “Batman Returns,” with Keaton as the caped crusader and DeVito as the villainous Penguin. Keaton also played the title character in 1988’s “Beetlejuice,” while DeVito appeared in 1996’s “Mars Attacks!” and 2003’s “Big Fish.”

“There’s always a certain amount of kinetic artistic energy that’s flowing through (Burton). From the beginning, when I met him on ‘Batman Returns,’ what you noticed is the visual language that he has. I remember his office was filled with these amazing drawings of every character and where he was going with it,” DeVito said. “Hanging out with him on the set, I get the feeling that we’re part of his paintbox. He gives you leeway and you can go various ways to give him what colors he wants. But everybody is serving the master that he’s serving. That’s what makes it exciting.”