Earlier this year I did posts on how to fix Superman and Alice in Wonderland. Now I am taking on a great visionary like Tim Burton. In my opinion aside from his animated films he hasn’t made a good movie since Sweeney Todd in 2007. I’m sure he is rolling in his money somewhere but if anyone were to ask my advice here’s what I would say.
1. STOP ADAPTING THINGS!– Tim Burton comes from an animation background and his animated films (both producer and director) have still remained great. What’s unique about them? They are original properties! They come from Tim Burton’s brain!
Let’s look at his track record with adaptations:
Planet of the Apes- clunky, awkward, boring, and aside from Rick Baker makeup Tim Burton’s visual style nowhere to be found.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory- they replace all the whimsy of the Gene Wilder classic with a Michael Jackson version of Wonka. I hated this film so much in the theater.
Alice in Wonderland- long, boring adaptation that trades in the Wonderland nonsense for a prophecy and chosen one with a apocalyptic battle scene and Crispin Glover being creepy, Helena Bonham Carter screaming
Dark Shadows- based off of cult TV show feels like each performer is in a different movie. The tone is all over the place. I didn’t laugh once.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children- just like so many YA adaptations it gets bogged down in exposition instead of creating compelling characters. I was so bored.
So there you have it. STOP DOING ADAPTATIONS!!!!
2. Animate Again– I don’t know how good Burton’s relationship with Disney is after Frankenweenie but I’m sure he can find a studio to work with again. In my opinion Frankenweenie and Corpse Bride are by far the best thing he has done since Ed Wood.
You could say that’s just because I am an animation addict and that would be true but Tim Burton started in animation and some of his most personal projects have been in that medium. His short Vincent feels practically autobiographical.
The other thing is animation takes time. A live action film can be filmed in as short as a month. Animation is multiple years process and I think Burton needs that to refine his scripts and make sure they are more than style over substance.
I’m not saying never do live action again but let’s get the Burton mojo back with animation. I’m sure Laika would work with him again and that would be awesome.
3. Collaborate- In my opinion Tim Burton’s best movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas, isn’t actually directed by him. It is directed by Henry Selick. Sometimes I wonder if Tim Burton and Zack Snyder both need collaborators.
They are both visionary storytellers. There’s no doubt about it but left to their own devices the stories are muddled and boring.
I don’t have any proof but I’ve got to imagine in the early days of Burton he was reigned in a lot more than he is now. At the very least I know Ed Wood was a very collaborative effort between writers Larry Karaszewski, Scott Alexander, director Tim Burton and producer Denise Di Novi.
Working with his muses such as Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (who has evidently been replaced by Eva Green) you would think would invite collaboration but it does not appear to be the case. Perhaps you get too comfortable and that leads to uninspired work.
Animation is a very collaborative medium so it is no surprise his best work has been there.
4. NO CG- Now I don’t really mean no CG, but I think CG has kind of ruined Tim Burton. I can only imagine how much cooler his Alice in Wonderland would have been if he had to literally create the world.
If you think about Edward Scissorhands, Burton created an entire world. Just as an example, his version of suburbia in Edward Scissorhands is full of color and makes a statement about the life just in the color of the paint and the way the castle floats above the small houses.
In his recent Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children the suburb is just normal houses that look like any other houses.
The one part I liked in Miss Peregrine’s was the skeleton scene which is made to look like stop motion! It was like a little peak at what might have been.
5. REMEMBER THE EMOTION– Most of Tim Burton’s early films work (for me at least) not because of visual splendor but because I am emotionally attached to the characters. Big Eyes is the only one of his recent live action films I have connected with on that level (I so wish Christoph Waltz hadn’t ruined that movie with his overacting). Sweeney Todd has it because of the Sondheim music but other than that Tim Burton has had one flat protagonist after another.
Ed Wood is a great movie because we care about Ed making his horrible movies. He is so happy doing what he is doing and that makes you root for him. Edward Scissorhands is heartbreaking. Jack Skellington is likable despite stealing christmas. Frankenweenie breaks your heart in two and I’m not even a pet owner. The list goes on.
Even a silly movie like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure you laugh but actually care a little bit about him finding that darn bike. I’m not the biggest fan of Burton’s Batman films but particularly Batman Returns has a lot of emotion in it. I mean Penguin’s story is a complete tragedy. I wish we could get a tenth of the emotion from Penguins funeral with the birds walking him into the water in films like Alice in Wonderland or Dark Shadows.
And you don’t have to make the character have Daddy issues to get emotion. Just have a character experiencing something that matters to them. Put on that Danny Elfman score and you’ve got my attention! Corpse Bride gets emotion out of me in Victor playing a piece of classical music. It’s a moment of human connection. That’s all it takes.
I really do think that Tim Burton is a talented man, a genius when he is on his game. I LOVE Corpse Bride. I LOVE Ed Wood. I LOVE Edward Scissorhands. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure is genius. I thought Sweeney Todd was terrific. Frankenweenie made me bawl my eyes out. I want to like a new movie from him so badly!
So, that’s my opinion on that. You are welcome Mr Burton for the free advice 😉