Like many of my generation, we have been greatly influenced by Tim Burton in SO many ways. I started to type up a facebook status today:
“Ok, so Dark Shadows was beautiful but pointless, Abraham Lincoln VH fell short from the book form, and NO ONE seems to care about Frankenweenie as a Frankenweenie/Vincent combo but me. It’s all right Tim Burton, I still think you’ve got what counts. A beautiful eye, dry and morbid sense of humor, and an understanding of being an outcast. You keep on working sir!”
But it got me thinking, why this attachment? Why this sense of loyalty to someone who probably doesn’t care if he still has a single fan? So let’s take a look at some history from his story as interpreted by me…
Who doesn’t like Disney?!? Tim Burton liked Disney, since he worked for them at first as an animator. It would be an on again off again relationship throughout his career, but more than that, the influences of live action films like Mary Poppins and animation like Snow White. They were his childhood memories, and he became ours.
Dreams In Color
Tim Burton’s first live action film brought him into the world of family humor. Jokes that were appealing to BOTH children and adults, and a character/comedian we all admired, the perfect beginning for us to truly fall in love with him as a story-teller. It may not be entirely the Gothic Horror we now identify him with, but watch the first 2 min of the movie and tell me you don’t see the same style later in BIG FISH. A fantasy version of our own reality.
Beetlejuice to Nightmare Before Christmas
For 6 years Burton shelled out 5 films that built the fantasy world we came to believe he came from. Decaying stone towers, snow on green grass, skeletons that talk, clowns that kill. All with main characters that just DON’T fit in with everyone else. He put us into places we wanted to live with characters we, the social outcasts, could identify with. The feeling of being alone didn’t seem so lonely anymore when someone else was putting it on screen in such a beautiful context.
At this point the world loved Tim Burton, but I don’t think he knew why. He had unintentionally labeled himself as a Gothic Storyteller with darkness and shadows. With a sense of humor hardly anyone got at the time, he took his darkness one step further with the sarcastic tale of film maker Ed Wood. But Burton played a joke on all of us, he was telling us the truth. Ed Wood did two things in his life, he got to meet and honor his idol Bela Lugosi, and he got to make HIS films, even if no one quite understood them (or him). At this point, so had Tim Burton. He got to meet and honor one of his idols Vincent Price with one of the most heart wrenching scenes in his career, and he was making films based almost entirely on his visions. It sounds like this would be where the fairy tale would end, right? The film wasn’t appreciated at the time for what it was, wasn’t even understood by the public much like the film’s subject, and so begins the part of the story where we learn Burton is human just like the rest of us.
Science Fiction Satire Based On Bubblegum Cards
After a stint as Producer for Batman Forever and James and the Giant Peach, Burton got back in the conception and directors chair with Mars Attacks. I’m going to be candid here. IT’S A RIDICULOUS FILM! Just read the wikipedia description please.
Based on the cult trading card series of the same name, the film uses elements of black comedy, surreal humor, and political satire, and is a parody of science fiction B movies. Mars Attacks! stars an ensemble cast, which includes Jack Nicholson, Lukas Haas, Annette Bening, Jim Brown, Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Glenn Close, Martin Short, Jack Black, Natalie Portman, Danny DeVito, and Christina Applegate.
Everything about that description is hilarious. So the public ate it up, made it a blockbuster. This film is 100% conceived by Burton. Think about it, if this movie had half the budget, half the star power, and a different writer/director, who the hell would watch a movie based on a now vintage trading card set? So really, he’s been trying this formula ever since, but for various reasons just hasn’t been the same.
Two Outta Three Ain’t Bad
I’ll summarize this period as simply as I can. Sleepy Hollow took us back to that Gothic world we first fell in love with our hero in. Then Planet of the Apes took us somewhere we didn’t really want to be, but once again, this isn’t Burton’s fault. He’d had his versions of OZ (of the Wizard’s sort), Jurassic Park, Mary Reilly, Catwoman, and Superman all taken away from him after some very stupid studios got scared off by bottom lines. So when his version of Apes started getting the “rushed by the studio” treatment, he just accepted it. Then we end this part with Big Fish. I’ve actually read this book, I can’t get through it, I do not like it. But Tim Burton took what was good in it, the parts I couldn’t see, and made it an adult fairy tale in the world he showed us in Pee Wee, he made our back yard beautiful, and he made us fall in love with a fantasy again.
This point in his life also signaled a change that is really none of our business. I will NOT go into his personal life, I’ll just say that this period was the transition from having a muse in Lisa Marie, to a confidant and a colleague in Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp. Two people who would do anything for him, and will stand by him through the rest of his life.
Acceptance For The Things We Can Not Change
Two more Gothic musicals, two re-imaginings of almost forgotten but still beloved tales, and two producers credits with Timur Bekmambetov related films (giving a new visionary director the same chance he once had), as fans we’re left holding our love in our hands and wondering “what should we do with it?” It still feels like the world we love, but we somehow still feel a little lost. But isn’t that why we fell in love with our hero in the first place? Perhaps our expectations are too high, perhaps we’ve misunderstood his intentions as a story-teller? Or perhaps he’s still that visionary with an understanding of being an outcast that helps us feel a little less lonely.
It’s always been his world, but it’s our choice to live in it or not.