Before we even start one might ask, “Does Tim Burton need defending?” Obviously, he does (or else why would I write this?), and he needs it because the Tim Burton of today is not the Tim Burton we know and love.
Or is he? Dun dun dun!
Virtually everyone you come across will have a soft spot for his early works like Edward Scissorhands, Batman, and Beetlejuice and many hold a great respect for his work on Ed Wood and Big Fish. But after a series of perceived missteps, it’s as though Burton’s stock with more movie-savvy people has dropped, even as he’s garnered some serious monetary success.
His most recent films excluded, of course, as Frankenweenie was very recently criminally ignored at the box office. It really is a fantastic bit of film making, a great ode to the monster movies of yore, while his Dark Shadows reboot mostly floundered in failing to make back its money domestically. Indeed it is the domestic perception of Burton that has suffered most while internationally he has secretly become a powerhouse, his recent films doing sometimes triple their domestic receipts. Alice in Wonderland alone has crossed the one billion dollar mark, putting it into a rather rare club.
So do people hate Burton, or think less of him? I know I did. After all, he often seems to be a one trick Gothic pony. There is no mistaking a Burton film for anything else. His frequent, pasty-faced collaborations with Johnny Depp (Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) mostly failed to impress and quickly felt stale. Couple that with his less than stellar invasion of The Planet of the Apes and the (compared to Henry Sellick’s The Nightmare Before Christmas) lackluster The Corpse Bride and there’s why Burton’s stock has fallen.
Unfairly so? I now think that that’s the case.
Before recently watching Dark Shadows, of which I had low expectations, I lamented the lack of good Burton movies. What had happened to him? Then I went to his IMDb page and found that – hey, Burton actually doesn’t really make bad movies. Perhaps I was just being too harsh on him given his track record. Let’s take a look at the films he’s directed.
- Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure*
- Edward Scissorhands*
- Batman Returns*
- Ed Wood*
- Mars Attacks!*
- Sleepy Hollow*
- Planet of the Apes
- Big Fish*
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
- Corpse Bride ~
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street*
- Alice in Wonderland
- Dark Shadows ~
Of those 16 films I would firmly plant 11 of them in the Good category, if not better (marked with a *), and two in the pretty enjoyable category (marked with a ~). That really only leaves three of his films as ones I’m not totally on board with. I don’t even know if I could call them bad, just “not good.”
There are people out there, on the Internet, on Twitter, Facebook, and message boards who have, I believe, unfairly classified Burton as someone whose career has gone off course. Granted, he’s gone through a somewhat redundant period of late, but that doesn’t mean the movies are bad, just not unique.
I’m reminded of Weird Al Yankovic, a popular artist who always does exceedingly well when he releases a new album and wins a plethora of awards, but who has said that every time he releases an album, it’s viewed as a comeback. He doesn’t stay in the public eye for long, and his product is always (like Burton’s) very similar.
A Tim Burton movie is just that – a Tim Burton movie. Seemingly unfortunately for him, that’s a very recognizable thing these days. Michael Bay puts out movies that are all definitely Michael Bay films, but they don’t have quite the same degree of visual similarity (especially in design) as Burton, so he gets more of a pass. Plenty of directors turn out the same types of movies but with different faces, so they get a pass as well. Burton’s faces always seem the same, as many times they literally are the same actors, or the design is the same.
You can’t hold anything technical against the films of Burton. From a production design and technical standpoint, they are all excellently made and visually stunning. It just seems as though they’re a touch too similar – but then again, that’s what the man is paid to do. Make the movies we expect of him.
So I have shifted my position firmly pack into the pro-Burton camp. I love a great many of his films and think more people need to go out and view Frankeneweenie. I think it might be wise for Burton to stretch his design taste just a little bit in the future to add some variety to his resume and break away from the perception that he always is making the same movie, but for now, after careful viewing and deliberation, I’ve noticed it pushes me past my boiling point for someone to be overly critical of Burton. The man has an impeccable record and rarely turns out a bad film, in my opinion, which is always correct.