Vandevere is a corrupt businessman who runs the Dreamland amusement park in Arkansas. As a persuasive entrepreneur who sets his sights on Max Medici's circus and its newest, miraculous member — a flying elephant, all Vandevere can see are dollar signs. He plans to make Dumbo a big star in his state-of-the-art amusement utopia, Dreamland, by pairing him with a stunning aerial artist named Colette Marchant. With Vandevere's eye on the prize, nothing and nobody can stop him.
To his corrupt actions, he is shown to be a ruthless park owner who refuses to let Dumbo reunite with his mother Mrs. Jumbo. He also shows no safety to trapeze artist Colette Marchant, telling her that nets are only for rehearsal, much to his harshness. In addition during the climax, he also retaliates against one of the engineers inside the control center of Dreamland.
Behind the scenes
“V.A. Vandevere is a guy who’s coming in to buy the circus,” says producer Justin Springer. “He’s making a great offer, and what he’s selling sounds great. ‘I can take you to a better, brighter place,’ he says. He makes a really convincing argument and he plays into Medici’s desire to take care of his circus family.”
“One reason Vandevere, my character, behaves the way he behaves, which is not too nice, is he never really had a family, and deep inside, that ate him up—although he would never let you know that. And there’s this little circus family that’s not a mom-dad-and-two-kids situation. The father, played by Colin Farrell, is trying to hold this little family together. Enter this really cute little flying elephant. You’ve got forces who want to grow that and enjoy that and make that a wonderful thing. Then there are some people who want to exploit it for their own personal profit. Unfortunately, I’m that guy.”
Burton had, of course, worked with Keaton before. “I hadn’t seen him for many years,” says the director. “Vandevere reminded me of his energy from ‘Beetlejuice’—that intensity that he has. You don’t know whether he’s being friendly or wants to kill you. It’s really a lot of fun to work with him, and having him and Danny together again — that was great.”
Hair and makeup designer Paul Gooch first met with Keaton in New York where he shared his thoughts on Vandevere’s hairstyle.
“We’d decided to try a full white wig — an evangelist, presidential-type thing with that iconic little flip. But Michael said he wanted it to look like he was wearing a toupee. So, we can see his own hair, and there are moments when he adjusts it himself.”
Costume designer Colleen Atwood turned to their reference to dress Vandevere.
“These entertainment guys that created circuses at that time were entrepreneurs, they were showmen with big personalities,” she says.
“We wanted to go for that without it being too ‘in your face.’ The clothes are pretty classic clothes from the time. He wears a cravat. We had a lot of fun with the character.”
Vandevere approaches his companion Sotheby reading an article about Dumbo's success just as the circus plans to move to Arkansas where Vandervere is introduced to the Medici Circus just as Max Medici meets him alongside Neils Skellig and Colette Marchant. At Max's office, he tells Vandevere that Dumbo is not for sale as he will only fly around the circus just as Max takes the gang inside Dumbo's pen. Max tells Vandevere that it is Holt's children who taught Dumbo how to fly just as he talks to him about the ownership shares he received from Vandevere, just as Vandevere explains to him that his business is lacking a protege, so in order to keep the circus from going bankrupt, Vandevere takes the circus to Dreamland.
As the circus arrives at Dreamland, Vandevere plans on Dumbo's act to be on a Friday so that he can fly with trapeze artist Colette Marchant. Meanwhile, Vandevere takes Max to his office at Vandevere Enterprises where he tells Colette that Milly will show her how Colette's act with Dumbo works. At his office, Vandevere introduces Max to J. Griffin Remington who also introduces himself to Remington just as he explains to Max that what the circus needs is money to keep it going. During an act with Dumbo and Colette, the act was unsuccessful as Vandevere notices Dumbo hearing his mother from a distance in an attraction called "Nightmare Island" much to Neils and Vandevere's worry.
Back at Vandevere Enterprises, Vandevere is talking to Colette for losing control of Dumbo to which he explains to her that nets are only for rehearsal, much to his harshness. While talking to Holt, he explains that the elephant Dumbo encountered in Nightmare Island is Mrs. Jumbo, his mother just as Milly and Joe want Dumbo reunited back to his mother but Vandevere refuses. He and Neils walk outside telling Neils to remove Dumbo's mother to avoid distractions to Dumbo.
The next day, Vandevere reads an article about the failure about the act between Dumbo and Colette, explaining to Max, telling him to take care of the circus troupe where it is found out that Vandevere has fired the whole troupe as the circus is to leave by the next day as Holt, his children, and the circus performers plan to rescue Dumbo. At Vandevere's office, Vandevere and Neils confront Max, urging him to find the missing troupe just as the two take Max to the backstage area just as he gazes upon Holt's children Joe and Milly. Furthermore, Vandevere notices the heroic plans of Holt, his children, and the circus performers trying to release Dumbo back to the wild and during Colette's next act, Vandevere orders his guards to arrest Holt's children, but becomes distracted upon noticing Colette and Dumbo inside the control center pulling levers to open the gate for the performers to escape. Vandevere plans to reactivate Dreamland's lights, but a volunteer engineer tells him that the mains have to be reset or this suspicious plan could cause a power outage across Dreamland, much to his corrupt actions as he refuses to listen to the volunteer's warning, causing destruction to Dreamland. Vandevere angrily notices Dumbo escaping Dreamland, ordering his guards to arrest Holt for theft, but Max Medici confronts him for his betrayal just as he notices his theme park being destroyed alongside his senior companion J. G. Remington. Offscreen, he is arrested for his crimes.
- Part of the original Ringmaster's antagonistic role was given to Vandevere in this film, while the other Ringmaster, Max Medici, has a heroic role compared to his original counterpart.
- Both, Michael Keaton and Danny DeVito previously collaborated together in Batman Returns, another project Tim Burton worked on.
- Tom Hanks was considered for the role of Vandevere before Michael Keaton was considered.