Since the late '80s, Tim Burton has been a household name. The famed director has a distinct style that has evolved into a calling card. Responsible for some of the most popular films of all time, Burton will continue to inspire and influence filmmakers and audiences alike for the unforeseeable future. With a taste for the macabre, quirky and outlandish, this visionary has amassed a gargantuan fan base. However, as always, with great popularity comes great scrutiny.
Among the many criticisms of Tim Burton's work, the most common complaints include repetitive casting, all too familiar production design, questionable re-imaginings and a knack for the strange that is just getting old. However, these complaints about Burton films happen to be what I love most about them. Regardless of your position on this topic, you just can't deny that Tim Burton movies are unmistakably unique. Next time you watch one of these gems, try to see the beauty in each weirdly lovable moment by remembering these things:
Johnny Depp Is Burton's Muse
Of course, its easy to pick at the most repetitive aspect of Tim Burton films: Johnny Depp. What many critics never mention is that Tim and Johnny have been the best of friends since working together on Edward Scissorhands in 1990. Their relationship has been the catalyst for a whirlwind of creative expression. Burton casts Depp in many of his movies for two reasons: He's a great actor and he's a friend. They know each other so well that many of their discussions are nonvocal. Essentially, Tim casts his movies like they're independent films. Burton/Depp has become a brand. If it works, why mess with it?
Helena Bonham Carter, Burton's ex-wife, also makes plenty of appearances in his films, typically opposite Johnny Depp. These two actors have a chemistry that is cinema gold. In fact, when Sweeney Todd was in pre-production, Depp and Carter weren't Burton's first choices. Why? Because he was concerned about their singing. Eventually they were cast anyway because Helena was able to train her voice for her role as Mrs. Lovett. And Johnny? Well, no one heard him sing until he hit the recording booth. During the initial sound test, Depp hit all the right notes, confirming Burton's belief that he could bring Mr. Todd to life. Other common Burton movie stars include Alan Rickman, Timothy Spall and Christopher Lee.
Adaptation With Imagination
Burton's re-imaginings of classic stories tend to get the most condemnation from critics and audiences. Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are the two that get the most grief. The naysayers state that Tim has become exceedingly predictable and that these two movies in particular are his biggest failures. I completely disagree. Both remakes are drastically darker than their classic counterparts. Tim Burton does darkness with expertise and both of these movies were enjoyable to me. I absolutely love the color choices. Dull and washed out tones contrasted with bright and bold ones in 'Alice'. Dark and dreary clashing with downright exaggerated color in 'Charlie' speak to Burton's creative mind and the ease with which he translates his imagination to the screen.
In the case of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, many adults that cherished the original film were very vocal in regard to the massive changes made. They claimed that Depp's Wonka was way too eccentric and downright strange. Also, they hated the Oompa Loompas' new look and musical direction, and demeaned the exaggerated personas of every single character. Burton's version was actually truer to the book than the original movie and I believe that the creative liberties he took with this film add to it's charm, especially the purposeful overacting. It's an intelligent and unique way of adding to the tone of the film and it's just plain funny. I loved the insertion of Wonka's childhood flashbacks. Character development is an area in which the original falls short. Instead of comparing the two, I'd much rather embrace them both for what they added to Roald Dahl's wonderful creation.
As far as Alice in Wonderland is concerned, I'm extremely happy with how Burton took the story and made it his own. If adaptations were exact copies, what would be the point in remaking anything? What Tim does here, taking the core of a known story and tailoring it to his own imagination, is pure genius. Recreating that entire world is not an easy task and the continuity of Burton's 'Underland' is virtually seamless.
Perhaps the most talked about Alice decision is, of course, the Mad Hatter. Many saw Depp's version of him to be overdone and poorly designed. If you take the time to see beyond the surface, Depp does a wonderful job making the Hatter accurately mad. From his swift mood swings to his anxiety induced demeanor, the Hatter is perfectly imperfect. Despite all criticism, Burton remakes are works of art, worthy of having their own genre. As for those that desire more of the mundane and less of the inspired and unique: they may have lost their muchness.
A Partnership Most Harmonious
In cinematic worlds as vivid and dreamlike as Tim Burton's, music that complements every little quirk is crucial to each film's ambiance and overall synergy. Enter Danny Elfman.
Burton and Elfman have collaborated on many films since their first pairing in 1985. In fact, he has written music for all but two of Tim's films. Identifying a Burton film is easily done just by listening to the opening credits. Elfman's distinctive and recognizable scores are perfectly complementary to the zany and outlandish visuals of Tim's imagination.
The most memorable of Elfman's scores include those of The Nightmare Before Christmas (which I haven't mentioned until now because it needs no defending), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Edward Scissorhands and Alice in Wonderland. The way his music carries a film is nothing short of amazing. Whenever I hear Elfman's work, I'm transported to another dimension. His work on The Nightmare Before Christmas, which he composed and even provided his voice for, was revived in 2008 for the release of 'Nightmare Revisited,' a re-imagining of the film's soundtrack. And since 2013, he's been conducting live stage performances of Burton movie music around the world.
I've never been a fan of devaluing the core of who someone is, and that's exactly what Tim Burton critics are doing. Johnny Depp will continue to create memorable characters regardless of the public's opinions of them. Adaptations will always find a way to be made. I am more inclined to watch one that goes beyond simply cloning the original work. Movies would be nothing without music, so scores will always have a home in cinema. I hope that composers dig a little deeper and take more risks to create unique scores that complement the film in every way. Tim Burton movies may get mixed reviews, but at least they get your attention.
No matter your age, there is something for everyone in a Tim Burton movie. You just have to use your imagination! Follow me here to catch more articles about the underdogs of cinema and don't forget to comment to share your thoughts!