The Wonderful Weird Worlds of Tim Burton

Tim Burton is having another double feature year in 2012, like he did in 2005 when he released Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bride in the same year. This year we will again see him release two new films with Dark Shadows opening this weekend and another animated Halloween themed film, Frankenweenie, being released in October.

Tim Burton’s body of work consists almost exclusively of darkly comic but sensitive children’s tales of eccentric awkward characters who discover an alternate world where everyone is weird; The Nightmare before Christmas (1993), Corpse Bride (2005), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Alice in Wonderland (2010), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Mars Attacks! (1996), Edward Scissorhands (1990), and Beetlejuice (1988). These whimsical tales explore and exploit our fears and prejudices with humor and playfulness but never lose their poignant significance. Even his more adult films cannot escape Burton’s sense of dark comedy and youthful exuberance; Ed Wood (1994), Planet of the Apes (2001), Big Fish (2003) and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007).

As fantastical and quirky as these visually striking films are, they also contain a melancholy that’s grounded in relevant human emotions. What makes a Tim Burton film so special is the familiar themes of a sensitive, withdrawn, misunderstood and teased loner, (usually played by Johnny Depp, Tim Burton’s alter ego), whose unusual appearance or ideas doesn’t quite fit in with those of mainstream society and must overcome his or her fears, doubts and bullies. The well-meaning, good-hearted outsider, through determination, conviction and a lot of humor, eventually gains self-confidence and the admiration of his or her peers while finding love. 

The surreal visual style and set design of his films are so outrageous and eye-popping that the audience feels completely immersed in a dream like world of childlike wonder. What’s so funny about all of Burton’s characters is how they all start out as being strangely out of place, completely at odds with their environment, and by winning the hearts of the locals with charm and vulnerability, they slowly manage to inspire acceptance and transform that environment into something new and wonderful.

The squeamish detective who must solve a murder mystery using unorthodox new techniques in the spooky town of Sleepy Hollow, a shy melancholic groom forced into an arranged marriage, finds himself trapped in the lively underworld of the dead and revives the lifeless world of the living by inviting ghostly guests to his wedding in Corpse Bride, and the Pumpkin King Jack Skellington accidentally finds himself in the snowy world of Christmas town and decides to bring a little of his Halloween town into the world of Santa Clause in The Nightmare before Christmas. These are just a few examples of the strange alternate worlds and displaced characters that transform their environments in Tim Burton’s films.

Dark Shadows is no exception, based on the 1960s TV soap opera of the same name, a wealthy 18th century English immigrant in New England, America is cursed and buried alive only to be unearthed and woken 200 years later as a Vampire in the disco era of 1972.

You can currently see a Tim Burton art exhibition showcasing artwork, props, costumes and sculptures from many of his films in Paris, France from March 7th, 2012 until August 5th, 2012.



Love to Write said...

I was thinking about seeing this movie just because it looked cute. Now I think I may need to see it, rather than thinking about it. Cheryl from LinkedIn

Susan Cooper said...

I am a Johnny Depp fan. So that in and of itself is reasoning enough for me to go see the film. The trailer are fantastical and the your description have only added to my desire to go. So off I will go. :-),Susan Cooper

JP said...

Thanks but this is not a review of Dark Shadows as I have not seen it yet. It is more an general overview of Tim Burton's previous films.

Subhorup Dasgupta said...

clicked through thinking this was a review of dark shadow, but am leaving enriched even though it was not. as you brought out so well, burton's work, both fantasy and realistic are all centered around the concept of the protagonist who is different, or appears different because of the settings he is in. this is really the depiction of the universal human condition where right thinking and sensitiveness are no longer values that seem to be universally desired. most of his work also establishes the seeming impossibility of overcoming this challenge in any other way other than through self acceptance. love his work, and of course, depp's, and am so looking forward to dark shadow.

JeriWB said...

Ever since seeing The Nightmare Before Christmas long ago, I've often wondered what it would be like to be inside Tim Burton's head. Can't wait to see Dark Shadows this Thursday.

Jen Anderson said...

I saw the Tim Burton exhibit in NYC and it was wonderful. I'm really looking forward to seeing Dark Shadows because I love the comedy that he brings to his work.

I have friends who are huge fans of the original Dark Shadows series, and I fear that they're just too invested in their own vision of Dark Shadows to enjoy Tim Burton's.

Anonymous said...

I have seen every one of Tim Burton's films, including the latest, "Dark Shadows," which was wonderful. It is not quite a many laughs as the trailer would have you believe, but it is a terrific film nonetheless.

Johnny Depp is his usual magnificent self. But Michelle Pfeiffer is also excellent. She plays it absolutely straight. Every hair in place. No hint of camp, which is high camp in itself.

My favorite is still "Beetlejuice" but "Dark Shadows" is well worth seeing.

Kay in Hawaii