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BURTON, TIM
(1958– ). American director and producer.

SCIENCE FICTION, FANTASY, AND HORROR FILM CREDITS
Directed and wrote animated shorts: The Island of Doctor Agor  (adaptation of H.G. WELLS) (1971); Doctor of Doom (1979);  Stalk of the Celery (and produced and animator) (1979); Vincent  (1982); The World of Stainboy (and produced and wrote with Tony Grillo) (2000).

Directed: Hansel and Gretel (tv movie) (1982);  Frankenweenie (short) (and provided idea) (1984); "The Jar" (1985), episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents; Pee Wee's Big Adventure (and appeared in, uncredited) (1986);  "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp" (1986), episode of Faerie Tale Theatre; Beetle Juice (1988); Batman (1989); Sleepy Hollow (1999); Planet of the Apes (2001); Big Fish (2003); Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005); Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007); Alice in Wonderland (2010).

Directed and produced: Luau (wrote and directed, both with David Rees) (and appeared in and animator) (1982);  Edward Scissorhands (and story with Caroline Thompson) (1990); Batman Returns  (1991); Ed Wood (1994); Mars Attacks!  (1996);  The Corpse Bride (animated) (and created characters) (2005).

Produced: Beetlejuice (and developed) (animated tv series) (1989); The Family Dog (animated tv series) (1993); Tim Burton's The Nightmare before Christmas (animated) (and story and production design) (Henry Selick 1993); Batman Forever (Joel SCHUMACHER 1995); James and the Giant Peach (animated) (Selick) (1996).; Lost in Oz (tv movie) (and story) (Michael Katleman 2000); 9 (animated) (Shane Acker 2009).

Animator: The Fox and the Hound (uncredited) (Ted Berman, Richard Rich, and Art Stevens 1981); Tron (uncredited) (Steven LISBERGER 1982); The Black Cauldron  (uncredited) (Ted Berman and Richard Rich 1985); "The Family Dog" (1987), episode of Amazing Stories.

Appeared in: The Muppet Movie (James Frawley 1979); numerous documentaries.

 
Sorry, but you're still not paying me enough money to figure out Tim Burton. Equipped with a hefty advance, I could spend months and months researching his personal history and meticulously studying all of his films, frame by frame, inching toward a comprehensive understanding of what's going on inside his head. For now, however, limited in my time and resources, I can only toss out some hurried observations, perhaps to serve as pieces of a mosaic someday to be assembled by other commentators.

Burton reminds me of playwright Anton Chekhov, who believed that he was writing comedies and couldn't understand why audiences silently watched his dramas with serious expressions when they should have been rolling in the aisles, convulsed with hysterical laughter. He is not necessarily an artist in Chekhov's league, but Burton shares with him the quality of failing to see his works in the ways that other people see them. Manifestly, in mounting his own projects, he believes that he is crafting gently amusing, charming, and heart-warming fables for our times, not repellent grotesqueries, and he is baffled whenever people are appalled and alienated by what he puts on the screen.

The saga begins with Burton as an animator, creating his own short films and making uncredited contributions to Walt Disney animated films, which might explain his abiding interest in the unreal. But soon, the studio allowed him to make two short films, the animated Vincent and the live-action Frankenweenie—the extraordinary work where any probing exegesis of the Burton filmography must begin. The sweetly sentimental story of a young suburban lad who stitches together and electrically reanimates his dead dog, who eventually saves the day and is happily reconciled with his family, Frankenweenie is a deeply disturbing film, not in the ways that great films should be disturbing in challenging traditional values, but rather in that one watches the film and keeps thinking, "What on Earth was the director thinking?" Burton was of course genuinely shocked when the film board refused to give this story a G rating. However, knowing that Burton could persuade market-savvy Disney executives to finance this travesty provides an important clue in any effort to figure out his career: he must be one of the most stunningly effective pitchmen in the business. And, in an era where getting your project financed is 90% of the game, this is hardly an insignificant skill.

Frankenweenie convinced Paul Reubens, better known as Pee Wee Herman, that Burton would be the perfect director for his first feature-length film—and surprisingly, he was right. The appealingly childlike and already established Pee Wee character imposed a sense of cohesiveness on what would emerge as Burton's characteristically scattershot approach, making Pee Wee's Big Adventure one of his best films. Burton was then blessed with a delightful script and talented cast for the offbeat ghost story Beetle Juice, and its success made Burton seem like a rising star.

With two hits under his belt, and a visible flair for the outré, Burton was logocially regarded by producers as the ideal director for a long-planned revival of Batman—but surprisingly, they were wrong. For whatever demons lurk in the tormented soul of Bruce Wayne, they bear no relationship to the demons haunting Tim Burton, and the director found himself unable to settle upon a coherent approach to the story. Eventually, Michael KEATON decided to play it straight, while Jack NICHOLSON decided to play it for laughs, and the frenetic energy of the latter's performance somehow overwhelmed the film's flaws and drew audiences to the theatre. But lightning didn't strike twice when the combined energies of Danny DeVito and Michelle Pfeiffer couldn't compensate for Nicholson's absence in Batman Returns, leading Burton to wisely abandon the series to even less capable hands of Joel SCHUMACHER. In between Batman movies, Burton produced Edward Scissorhands, surely his most personal film, and another resonant resource for anyone seeking to analyze this director. Unfortunately, despite several determined efforts, I can never bring myself to sit through it. I suppose my visceral repulsion is related to my reaction to Tod BROWNING's Freaks, but the actors there were at least real freaks whose plight commanded attention. The contrived plight of a hapless freak created by the special effects department, I find, is far less compelling.

Long on a roll, Burton in the early 1990s began to stumble, both as a producer and director. A stop-motion animation project, Tim Burton's The Nightmare before Christmas, was tolerable as children's fare but far more popular than it deserved to be, its true quality better suggested by the embarrassing failure of the follow-up film James and the Giant Peach, which temporarily ended Burton's adventures in animation. (Later, he would try directing an animated movie himself—The Corpse Bride—with slightly more success.) Two other big bombs ensued: Ed Wood, like Frankenweenie, numbly applied a traditional Hollywood formula—here, the celebratory biopic—to the utterly inappropriate topic of inept filmmaker Edward D. WOOD, Jr., and fell apart as soon as Martin LANDAU's fascinating portrayal of am aging Bela LUGOSI came to an end. And Mars Attacks! episodically visualized an old series of farcical trading cards with a reverence normally reserved for biblical adaptations, leading to the worst sort of funny film that isn't really funny.

As if humbled by these flops, Burton then launched what has become the least interesting stage of his career, refashioning himself as a journeyman hitmaker, ready to take on any project that could afford his hefty salary; thus, for the next decade, Burton would primarily be realizing other people's visions, not his own, although the films that sought his services predictably tend to be a bit strange anyway, creating an illusion of continuity in his oeuvre. Sleepy Hollow, while everything that a big-budget special-effects popcorn movie should be, was stunningly anonymous—any one of a dozen directors in Hollywood might have made it. More impressive was Burton's Planet of the Apes, a clever reworking of the original story ultimately spoiled by a touch of the old Tim Burton in its utterly senseless, unpleasant, and incongruous concluding scene. Still, for most of its length, it is an involving narrative dominated by the hypnotically compelling performances of the ape-masked Helena Bonham CARTER and Tim Roth, two actors who didn't receive the Academy Award nominations they deserve. Still, any sense that Burton might have a special talent to elicit good performances was dissipated when, after a brief return to familiar territory with Big Fish, he could never quite get a handle on two adaptations, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and he ended up presiding over two of Johnny DEPP's least satisfactory performances. Alice in Wonderland, really, was no better, but special effects and effective marketing did contrive to make it a huge financial success, already ranked one of the ten most profitable films ever made.

Now, with his vaults presumably filled with sufficient money to sustain him for decades to come, there are signs that Burton might be returning to the sorts of idiosyncratic oddities that once defined his career; for he is now hard at work on a big-budget remake of—of all things—Frankenweenie. Clearly, this will be a film made for the people who remain determined to figure out Tim Burton, who will eagerly seek out the ample amounts of provocative new evidence it will provide; but people with other priorities, who simply want to be entertained, will be well advised to stay away, as yet another Burton monster is brought to life.

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