There was a time when the name Tim Burton guaranteed people flocking to the theaters to experience films that always had a creepy and creative style, described nowadays as "Burton-esque." In the '80s, '90s and even the '00s, Burton seemed to be on top of the world with great hits and cult classics: Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, Sleepy Hollow, Ed Wood, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Batman, Big Fish and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, one of my personal favorite movies, which I implore any fan of musicals to see.
However, as years have gone by, Tim Burton's name is often accompanied with the sound of people sighing with disappointment. Why is that exactly?
For Every Brilliant Film, He's Also Made A Stinker
Tim Burton has hit so many grand slams, but his batting average unfortunately doesn't reflect that.
He did Corpse Bride and it sucks, he did Planet of the Apes and it sucked, he did Alice In Wonderland and it sucked, he did Frankenweenie and it sucked, and he did Dark Shadows and, yes, it sucked. Is it that Burton's style, while creative and unique, has lost its charm? Have audiences grown tired of the schtick?
Spirals, lots of black and white stripes, Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter in crazy makeup, gothic yet whimsical scenery, Danny Elfman being creepy in the background, over and over and over and over ... we've seen it all.
His Style Isn't The Problem — Just How He's Been Using It
When Burton's style is applied judiciously and naturally, he gives us true magic, but when he goes overboard and forces it on every project, his movies become style over substance. This is most apparent in recent movies such as Alice In Wonderland and Dark Shadows, in which the quirkiness drowned out the actual stories. (Even his blunders, it's worth mentioning, are still visually stunning to look at.)
On the other hand, 2003's Big Fish (one of his best) is an example of the perfect balance. While it does have his style in there for the exaggerated stories, it's those stories (and not just the style) that drive the movie, along with great performances, scenery, visuals, etc. The zany aspects worked because the rest of the movie was just incredibly well-written.
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Sweeney Todd worked because the story was already dark and dreary, so Burton incorporating his style into the Victorian era made perfect sense. Likewise, Sleepy Hollow is a great horror story, which blended well with his style. Basically, Burton needs to focus on a good story for his motifs instead of just Burton-ifying any story that he can for the sake of it. So that leads to another question...
Should Tim Burton Stop Making Adaptations?
Whereas some of Burton's best are original movies (Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas, which he wrote and did NOT direct), his most frustrating films have tended to be adaptations/reimaginings of other stories, such as Planet of the Apes, Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows.
However, he has made plenty of great adaptations: Batman, Sleepy Hollow, Sweeney Todd, Mars Attacks! and (I would argue, though it's divisive) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, where his style fit Roald Dahl's bizarre world. So if adaptations aren't the issue here, what is?
Burton Is Best When He Gets Out Of His Comfort Zone
Burton can do pale, gothic, strange characters — with a bit of childlike whimsy thrown in there — in his sleep. He can do creepy, kooky, mysterious, spooky locations without even trying. And maybe that's why it seems like he hasn't been trying.
When Burton breaks away from his zany craziness and does a more intimate film like Ed Wood, Big Fish or even Big Eyes, it's a nice break away from his formula.
I Still Believe There's Greatness Coming From Him
With the lack of a truly great Burton film in years, it would be easy to lose hope, but that's also what many thought of M. Night Shyamalan until he managed to show that he can still direct a good movie with The Visit.
With Burton's amazing amount of talent, I firmly believe that he has the potential to make another film that reminds us of Beetlejuice. It could very well be the recently announced Beetlejuice 2, and his upcoming project Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children looks enormously promising. (Or, as I like to call it, Tim Burton's X-Men.)
The trailer shows that this is definitely still a Tim Burton film, with crazy creatures and a creative world, but the dark gothic tone is replaced with a fun and more vibrant one. It has Asa Butterfield as the lead rather than a misused Johnny Depp, along with an always beautiful Eva Green as Miss Peregrine, Samuel L. Jackson looking like a cool villain, amazing visuals, and a concept that screams the word "genius."
Yes, Tim Burton is a genius. And I know that he still has it in him.
Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children opens in theaters on September 30th, 2016. #StayPeculiar