In celebration of Burton’s new film Alice Through The Looking Glass, Impact Film and TV looks back at some of his greatest classics…
This film is weird; ask someone why they like this film and they might struggle to say as it is cinematic Marmite. It has quite a cult following and represents the late ’80s in clothing, dialogue and musicality. Michael Keaton plays the titular madman antagonist who is summoned by saying his name three times. When this inevitably happens, Tim Burton’s mind is exploded on screen and it’s bloody brilliant! What would have been considered decent special effects now have a charm that has aged excellently. The film is surprisingly funny and deals with family values, growing up and creatures from the depths of your weirdest nightmares. If anything this film will leave a lasting impression due to the catchy ending musical number and you will recognise a lot of costumes at parties and cons – the giant beaks are always out in force!
Tim Burton has developed something of a reputation for making eccentric films, to the point where the eccentricity often overshadows the substance. His more recent works have largely received lukewarm receptions, but a look at his earlier filmography serves as a strong reminder as to why his style struck such a chord to begin with. Told as a flashback by an elderly Kim Boggs (Winona Ryder) to her grandchild, Edward Scissorhands follows the story of the titular hero (played by Johnny Depp) as he is adopted by the Boggs family in an idyllic suburbia after having spent most of his life isolated in a gothic manor. As his name suggests, Edward literally has scissors for hands, being the stitched-together creation of a scientist. His terrifying exterior is juxtaposed with the ordinary inhabitants of a perfect Americana – while his purity is contrasted with their selfish humanity. As the story progresses, it is made tragically clear that innocence has no place in this world. A simple but beautiful take on the importance of actions, not appearances, Edward Scissorhands will always remain a classic.
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Okay yes, we all know that technically the film was directed by Henry Selick, but the truth of the matter is that it was produced and conceived by Tim Burton, and the final film shows that. I mean, it was considered by Disney to be ‘too dark’ for kids and therefore released under the Touchstone Pictures banner rather than their own.
Fundamentally, the film follows the protagonist Jack Skellington (voiced by Chris Sarandon/singing by Danny Elfman) who is heralded as The Pumpkin King and his weariness at the monotonous routine that Halloween has become and his excitement upon discovering the ‘feeling of Christmas’. In an effort to take over Christmas with the help of Halloween Town, everything goes wrong and Jack realises he is scaring the children so goes to fetch the captured Santa (Ed Ivory) from the bogeyman, Oogie Boogie (Ken Page), but his love Sally has also been captured. I won’t ruin the ending for you, but you get the gist.
The soundtrack written by Danny Elfman is one of the greatest appeals of the musical animation, and this is proven in just how many famous artists have covered songs from it, for example Fall Out Boy and Panic! at the Disco.
A standout holiday film, this has everything – the romance, the musical numbers, beautifully illustrated characters and the complexity of emotion intrinsic to any Tim Burton film.
A musical about a serial killing barber may not sound like the best idea for a film, but combining the stellar talents of Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter with music from Steven Sondheim, Tim Burton created a fantastic musical adventure which left movie-goers singing along, whilst hiding their faces from the violent throat-slitting that punctuates the musical score.
Whilst the central performances are fantastic throughout, it is Burton’s Edward Scissorhand-esque palate that really helps to make the play’s transfer to the big screen a success. London is a dark, grimy backdrop, the central characters’ ghostly white faces shine through the gloom, andthe copious amounts of blood splatter the screen blood red. The light and dark contrast helps make the grim world of the Demon Barber of Fleet Street both fantastical and grittily realistic. Close consultation with Sondheim meant that fans of the musical were not left disappointed, though some marketing did neglect the ‘musical’ aspect of the picture, leading to some viewers walking out of the cinemas. This being said, the film was critically and financially a success, with Burton proving his aptitude in dealing with difficult cinematic formats.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
When a remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was announced, there were mixed reactions. Was it going to be as good as the original 1971 film? However, in 2005, Tim Burton proved everyone wrong. Of course, like many Burton films, it featured Johnny Depp, nominated for a Golden Globe for playing the eccentric Willy Wonka, and Helena Bonham Carter, who stars as Charlie Bucket’s mum, something different from her usual dark roles.
What works for this Tim Burton adaptation is that it mainly sticks with the same story as the book, such as Mike TV and Veruca Salt’s exits from the factory and including the original Oompa Loompa songs. I say mainly as despite similarities between this film and the book, the story does include something not in the book: the backstory of Willy Wonka. Although this seems questionable, it gives more depth to the character of Willy Wonka and it means the film features a memorable cameo in the form of Sir Christopher Lee as Wonka’s authoritarian dentist father. It also helps us understand why Wonka is not as nice towards Charlie when he wins the chocolate factory, compared to Gene Wilder’s Wonka in the original 1971 film.
Overall, the 1971 version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a classic yet the 2005 version is something worth watching. This is particularly true if you are one of those who prefers film adaptations that are closer to the book, which Tim Burton succeeds in creating perfectly.
Alice in Wonderland
Released in 2010, Burton’s take on Alice in Wonderland, originally written by Lewis Carroll and previously released as a cartoon animation by Disney in 1951, is a hallucinogenic wonder. Differing slightly from the main story, where Alice is a little girl, Mia Wasikowska plays a grown-up Alice, thrust into Wonderland to beat the Jabberwocky and fight the evil Red Queen, played by the familiar face of Helena Bonham Carter. Along the way, Alice meets the Mad Hatter, made even madder (and perhaps a little scary?) by Johnny Depp, Burton’s jewel in the crown of his film empire. The film is packed full of celebrities, such as the likes of Alan Rickman, Anne Hathaway, Matt Lucas, Sacha Baron Cohen, Steven Fry, Rhys Ifans… The list could go on, and they combine to create a fantastically weird film, 90% of which was CGI-created. Alice Through the Looking Glass, the sequel that has been produced by Burton rather than directed, has just been released, no doubt bearing the same stamps of madness and eccentricity the last one had. All in all, the film is great for slightly older kids and adults too, although it is perhaps a little darker and nightmare-inducing than the original Disney one!
In a world before Nolan transformed the Dark Knight into a synonym for grit and realism, and even before Warner Bros. turned the caped crusader into a camp hero with nipples on his Batsuit (a stain that would taint the character for general audiences for years to come) there was simply Batman, a Tim Burton vision of the comic book billionaire philanthropist who spends his spare time fighting Gotham’s craziest villains.
The film takes a lot of liberties when it comes to comic book canon (especially in regards to the Joker, portrayed phenomenally by Jack Nicholson) but is in essence a classic retelling of the Bruce Wayne origin story and his war against the Joker’s organized crime empire. Sure, by now we’ve seen this countless times but in 1989 it brought Batman (and comic book movies in general) into unprecedented mainstream acclaim.
The acting is great, the plot serviceable, but what makes the movie so characteristic is the trademark Burton gloomy tone which quite frankly is just perfect for the portrayal of the masked vigilante. The gothic, monumental set pieces, the dark lighting of the city, the fogginess of it all, and the slight quirkiness, it is all assembled magnificently.
In conclusion, although Burton was never a big comic fan himself, it is fair to say Batman was fundamental in his career and paved the way for a very good sequel (we will forget the subsequent rebooting) and the extremely successful DC animated universe that was only possible now that superhero movies were mainstream.
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