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Why Danny DeVito’s Penguin Was Batman Live’s Best Villain

Return of Batman was released in 1992, just three years after the first film, and was considered a cash grab after the first topped the box office and pop culture’s greatest landmark. However, looking at it from this lens totally negates the brilliant work director Tim Burton put into the film. The sets are larger than life, and so are the villains.

Specifically, Danny DeVito like Oswald Cobblepot, aka The Penguin. He may not be the most praised of all Batman villains, but this character portrayal deserves the praise and recognition that many other actors get for playing Batman villains. Although seemingly silly, it’s just as layered and deep as the rest of them.

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tragic story

As hilarious as the character often is, he actually has a tragic and haunting backstory. Abandoned as a baby for being too hideous (and for attacking the family cat), Oswald Cobblepot is raised in the sewers by a circus and a family of penguins. Obsessed with the idea of ​​one day returning to the light and finding out who he really is, Oswald is embroiled in a corporate war with charismatic business leaders and ultimately decides to run for mayor of Gotham.

Although he may play second fiddle to Catwoman in this film, The Penguin is still a dangerous foe for Batman.

The competition

Batman’s rogues gallery is often considered one of the best of all superheroes. They’ve had plenty of chances on the big screen, and characters like The Joker and Catwoman have risen beyond the original source material to become iconic household names. There have even been Oscars for these roles, with Heath Ledger winning an Oscar posthumously.

The Penguin is rarely brought into this same type of conversation. While he certainly has his chance to be adapted into multiple projects, the same adoration that other villains get is sorely lacking in this character. Most importantly – for Danny DeVito’s performance in Batman Returns. What he gives is a totally crazy performance that knows how to take itself seriously, while embracing the camp of everything. It’s important to take your acting role seriously, but allowing your physique and costume work to propel your performance is the sign of a truly great actor. DeVito fits right in with the best of the best villain performances, not just in a Batman movie, but in any superhero movie to date.

Related: Danny DeVito Gives His Thoughts on Batman’s Penguin

The Burton impact

Fresh off the original release Batman, Warner Bros. became immediately interested in capitalizing on the success of the first film. The main creators behind the first project, namely director Tim Burton, were initially not interested in following the first with a sequel so soon. However, Burton was quickly convinced to return after being given a much greater level of control over the project. Burton would do what he wanted to do with the first one. He would make it weirder, darker, and faster. In other words, it would make it more of a Burton movie.

Not normally considered one of Tim Burton’s best films, Return of Batman is the very definition of underrated. Burton undoubtedly does a fantastic job with the character, but a director is only as good as his actors. Luckily for Burton, Danny DeVito gives an all-time great performance.


The performance

Ultimately, the character is a wounded and empowered character who, despite receiving absolutely nothing in his life, still expects the world to fall perfectly into his hands. The Penguin has speech pattern differences, a unique way of walking, and a generally chaotic demeanor that are all perfectly captured by DeVito. It can be extremely difficult for an actor to draw the audience into character when, on the surface, there is so much that can pull them out. He looks silly, has a silly name, and is surrounded by penguins wielding a jetpack. DeVito does a great job of finding humanity in ridicule. Part of what made this performance so great was the collaborative process behind the scenes. Danny DeVito had a lot to say about the direction of his character. Tim Burton had a funny anecdote about this process: “We had no loyalty to the past stories of the characters in Catwoman or Penguin. We absolutely did our own thing. In my first draft, Danny DeVito’s Complaint about Penguin was: “too much like a Danny DeVito character.


Although it might be considered sacrilege by some, the ability to step away from the text and create something new on screen is another reason for the success of this performance. It was something that had truly never been seen before, and only imitated since.

Related: Batman Returns: Danny DeVito’s Best Penguin Moments, Ranked

Lasting impression

Danny DeVito found a new level of appreciation from fans around the world with his performance as Frank Reynolds in The weather is always nice in Philadelphia. He was on the scene for a long time and even directed a few films. Part of the lasting effect of this film is the general appreciation of Danny DeVito that audiences have. He never really left the pop culture spotlight and also seemed like a really interesting and kind person. Although the role of Penguin has been recast several times, he even confessed that he would be interested in returning to it.

There’s a reason Batman’s villains are recognized as some of the best of any superhero movie. These roles are absolutely larger than life. As true as that is, it still shouldn’t be overlooked that an actor as famous and iconic as Danny DeVito could totally disappear in a role like this. At the end of the day, the public knows that Danny DeVito is behind the makeup. It takes a truly amazing actor to make them forget that during the movie, and that’s exactly what he does. The character is self-contained and deserves a spot among the best of the best.