That’s right, this month the amazing Tim Burton, is my icon of the month.
Timothy Walter Burton Burton was born August 25, 1958, in Burbank, California, the son of Jean Burton (née Erickson), later the owner of a cat-themed gift shop, and William “Bill” Burton, a former minor league baseball player who was working for the Burbank Parks and Recreation Department.
His future work would be heavily influenced by the works of such childhood heroes as Dr. Seuss and Roald Dahl. After graduating from Burbank High School, Burton attended the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California, to study character animation. As a student at CalArts, Burton made the shorts “Stalk of the Celery Monster” and “King and Octopus”.
“Stalk of the Celery Monster” attracted the attention of Walt Disney Productions’ animation division, which offered Burton an animator’s apprenticeship at the studio. He worked as an animator, storyboard artist, graphic designer, art director and concept artist on films such as “The Fox and the Hound” (1981), “Tron” (1982), and “The Black Cauldron” (1985). His concept art never made it into the finished films. While at Disney in 1982, Burton made his first short, “Vincent”, a six-minute black-and-white stop motion film based on a poem written by the filmmaker, and depicting a young boy who fantasizes that he is his hero Vincent Price, with Price himself providing narration. The film was produced by Rick Heinrichs, whom Burton had befriended while working in the concept art department at Disney.
The film was shown at the Chicago Film Festival and released, alongside the teen drama “Tex”, for two weeks in one Los Angeles cinema. This was followed by Burton’s first live-action production “Hansel and Gretel”, a Japanese-themed adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy tale for the Disney Channel, which climaxes in a kung fu fight between Hansel and Gretel and the witch. Having aired once in 1983 at 10:30 pm on Halloween and promptly shelved, prints of the film are extremely difficult to locate, fueling rumors that the project did not exist. The short would finally go on public display in 2009 at the Museum of Modern Art, and again in 2011 as part of the Tim Burton art exhibit at LACMA. It was again shown at the Seoul Museum of Art in 2012.
Burton’s next live-action short film, “Frankenweenie”, was released in 1984. It tells the story of a young boy who tries to revive his dog after it is run over by a car. Filmed in black-and-white, it stars Barret Oliver, Shelley Duvall (with whom he would work again in 1986, directing an episode of her “Faerie Tale Theatre”) and Daniel Stern. After “Frankenweenie” was completed, Disney fired Burton, under the pretext of him spending the company’s resources on doing a film that would be too dark and scary for children to see.
Actor Paul Reubens saw Frankenweenie and chose Burton to direct the cinematic spin-off of his popular character ‘Pee-wee Herman’, stating on the Audio Commentary of 2000 DVD release of “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” that as soon as the short began, he was sold on Burton’s style. ‘Pee-wee Herman’ gained mainstream popularity with a successful stage show at The Groundlings and the Roxy which was later turned into an HBO special. The film, “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure”, was made on a budget of $8 million and grossed more than $40 million at the North American box office. Burton, a fan of the eccentric musical group Oingo Boingo, asked songwriter Danny Elfman to provide the music for the film. Since then, Elfman has scored every film that Tim Burton has directed, except for “Ed Wood”, “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” and “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”.
After directing episodes for the revitalized version of ’50s/’60s anthology horror series “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” and Shelley Duvall’s “Faerie Tale Theatre”, Burton directed his next big project: “Beetlejuice” (1988), a supernatural comedy horror about a young couple forced to cope with life after death, and the family of pretentious yuppies who invade their treasured New England home. Their teenage daughter ‘Lydia’ (Winona Ryder) has an obsession with death which allows her to see the deceased couple. Starring Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis, and featuring Michael Keaton as the obnoxious bio-exorcist ‘Beetlejuice’, the film grossed $80 million on a relatively low budget and won an Academy Award for Best Makeup. It would be converted into a cartoon of the same name, with Burton playing a role as executive producer, that ran on ABC and later Fox.
Burton’s ability to produce hits with low budgets impressed studio executives, and he received his first big budget film, “Batman”. The production was plagued with problems. Burton repeatedly clashed with the film’s producers, Jon Peters and Peter Guber, but the most notable debacle involved casting. For the title role, Burton chose to cast Michael Keaton as ‘Batman’ following their previous collaboration in “Beetlejuice”, despite Keaton’s average physique, inexperience with action films, and reputation as a comic actor. Although Burton won in the end, the furor over the casting provoked enormous fan animosity, to the extent that Warner Brothers’ share price slumped. Burton had considered it ridiculous to cast a “bulked-up” ultra-masculine man as ‘Batman’, insisting that ‘Batman’ should be an ordinary man who dressed up in an elaborate bat costume to frighten criminals.
Burton cast Jack Nicholson as ‘The Joker’ (Tim Curry being his second choice) in a move that helped assuage fans’ fears, as well as attracting older audiences not as interested in a superhero film. When the film opened in June 1989, it was backed by the biggest marketing and merchandising campaign in film history at the time, and became one of the biggest box office hits of all time, grossing over US$250 million in the U.S. and $400 million worldwide (numbers not adjusted for inflation) and earning critical acclaim for the performances of both Keaton and Nicholson, as well as the film’s production aspects, which won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction.
The success of the film helped establish Burton as a profitable director, and it proved to be a huge influence on future superhero films, which eschewed the bright, all-American heroism of Richard Donner’s “Superman” for a grimmer, more realistic look and characters with more psychological depth. It also became a major inspiration for the successful 1990s cartoon “Batman: The Animated Series”, in as much as the darkness of the picture and its sequel allowed for a darker “Batman” on television.
Burton claimed that the graphic novel “Batman: The Killing Joke” was a major influence on his film adaptation of “Batman”:
After the success of “Batman”, Burton agreed to direct the sequel for Warner Bros. on the condition that he would be granted total control. The result was “Batman Returns”, which featured Michael Keaton returning as ‘Batman’, and a new triad of villains: Danny DeVito (as the ‘Penguin’), Michelle Pfeiffer (as ‘Catwoman’) and Christopher Walken (as ‘Max Shreck’, an evil corporate tycoon and original character created for the film). Darker and considerably more personal than its predecessor, concerns were raised that the film was too scary for children. Audiences were more uncomfortable at the film’s overt sexuality, personified by the sleek, fetish-inspired styling of the ‘Catwoman’ costume. Burton made many changes to the ‘Penguin’ which would subsequently be applied to the character in both comics and television. While in the comics, he was an ordinary man, Burton created a freak of nature resembling a penguin with webbed, flipper-like fingers, a hooked, beak-like nose, and a penguin-like body (resulting in a rotund, obese man). Released in 1992, Batman Returns grossed $282.8 million worldwide, making it a financial success, though not to the extent of its predecessor.
Burton produced, but did not direct, due to schedule constraints on “Batman Returns”, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) for Disney, originally meant to be a children’s book in rhyme. The film was directed by Henry Selick and written by Caroline Thompson, based on Burton’s original story, world and characters. The film received positive reviews for the stop motion animation, musical score and original storyline. It was a box office success, grossing $50 million. Because of the ruling nature of the film, it was not produced under Disney’s name, but rather Disney owned Touchstone Pictures. Disney wanted the protagonist to have eyes, but it didn’t happen. There were over 100 people working on this movie just to create the characters. Along with the 3 years of work it took to produce the film. Burton collaborated with Selick again for “James and the Giant Peach” (1996), which Burton co-produced.
“Planet of the Apes” was a commercial success, grossing $68 million in its opening weekend. The film has received mixed reviews and is widely considered inferior to the first adaptation of the novel. In 2003, Burton directed “Big Fish”, based on the novel “Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions” by Daniel Wallace. The film is about a father telling the story of his life to his son using exaggeration and colour. Starring Ewan McGregor as young ‘Edward Bloom’ and Albert Finney as an older ‘Edward Bloom’, the film also stars Jessica Lange, Billy Crudup, Danny DeVito, Alison Lohman and Marion Cotillard. “Big Fish” received four Golden Globe nominations as well as an Academy Award nomination for Elfman’s score. The film was also the second collaboration between Burton and Helena Bonham Carter, who played the characters of ‘Jenny’ and ‘the Witch’.
“Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005) is an adaptation of the book of the same name by Roald Dahl. Starring Johnny Depp as ‘Willy Wonka’, Freddie Highmore as ‘Charlie Bucket’ and Deep Roy as the ‘Oompa-Loompas’, the film generally took a more faithful approach to the source material than the 1971 adaptation, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory”, although some liberties were taken, such as adding Wonka’s issue with his father (played by Christopher Lee). “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” was later nominated for the Academy Award for Best Costume Design. The film made over $207 million domestically. Filming proved difficult as Burton, Depp, and Danny Elfman had to work on this and Burton’s “Corpse Bride” (2005) at the same time, which was Burton’s first full-length stop motion film as a director, featuring the voices of Johnny Depp as ‘Victor’ and Helena Bonham Carter as ‘Emily’ in the lead roles.
Burton directed his first music video “Bones” in 2006. “Bones” is the sixth overall single by American indie rock band The Killers, the second released from their second studio album, Sam’s Town. Starring in this video were actors Michael Steger and Devon Aoki. Burton went to direct a second music video for The Killers’ “Here with Me”, starring Winona Ryder, released in 2012. The DreamWorks/Warner Bros. production “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street” was released on December 21, 2007. Burton’s work on “Sweeney Todd” won the National Board of Review Award for Best Director, received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director and won an Academy Award for Best Art Direction. The film blends explicit gore and Broadway tunes, and was well received by critics. Johnny Depp’s performance as ‘Sweeney Todd’ was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor.
In 2005, filmmaker Shane Acker released his short film “9”, a story about a sentient rag doll living in a post-apocalyptic world who tries to stop machines from destroying the rest of his eight fellow rag dolls. The film won numerous awards and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. After seeing the short film, Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov, director of “Wanted”, showed interest in producing a feature-length adaptation of the film. Directed by Acker, the full-length film was produced by Burton, written by Acker (story) and Pamela Pettler (screenplay, co-writer of Corpse Bride) and featured the voice work of Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Martin Landau and Crispin Glover, among others.
Tim Burton appeared at the 2009 Comic-Con in San Diego, California, to promote both “9” and “Alice in Wonderland”, the latter won two Academy Awards, for Best Art Direction and Best Costume Design. In Burton’s version of “Alice in Wonderland”, the story is set 13 years after the original Lewis Carroll tales. Mia Wasikowska was cast as ‘Alice’. The original start date for filming was May 2008. Torpoint and Plymouth were the locations used for filming from September 1 – October 14, and the film remains set in the Victorian era. During this time, filming took place in Antony House in Torpoint. 250 local extras were chosen in early August. Other production work took place in London. The film was originally to be released in 2009, but was pushed to March 5, 2010. Johnny Depp plays the ‘Mad Hatter’, while Matt Lucas is both ‘Tweedledee’ and ‘Tweedledum’; Helena Bonham Carter portrays the ‘Red Queen’; Stephen Fry is the ‘Cheshire Cat’; Anne Hathaway stars as the ‘White Queen’; Alan Rickman voices ‘Absolem the Caterpillar’, Michael Sheen voices ‘McTwisp the White Rabbit’ and Crispin Glover’s head and voice were added onto a CGI body to play the ‘Knave of Hearts’. Burton produced its sequel “Alice Through the Looking Glass” (2016).
“Dark Shadows” once again saw the collaboration of Burton with actors Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, composer Danny Elfman, and costume designer Colleen Atwood. The film was released on May 11, 2012, and received mixed reviews from critics. Burton co-produced “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, with Timur Bekmambetov, who also served as director (they previously worked together in “9”). The film, released on June 22, 2012, was based on the novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, who also wrote the film’s screenplay and also authored “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”. The film starred Benjamin Walker as ‘Abraham Lincoln’, Anthony Mackie as ‘William H. Johnson’, Joseph Mawle as Lincoln’s father ‘Thomas’, Robin McLeavy as Lincoln’s mother ‘Nancy’ and Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Lincoln’s love interest (and later wife) ‘Mary Ann Todd’. The film received mixed reviews. He then remade his 1984 short film “Frankenweenie” as a feature-length stop motion film, distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. He has said, “The film is based on a memory that I had when I was growing up and with my relationship with a dog that I had.” The film was released on October 5, 2012, and met with positive reviews.
Burton directed the 2014 biographical drama film “Big Eyes” about American artist ‘Margaret Keane’ (Amy Adams), whose work was fraudulently claimed in the 1950s and 1960s by her then-husband, ‘Walter Keane’ (Christoph Waltz), and their heated divorce trial after ‘Margaret’ accused ‘Walter’ of stealing credit for her paintings. The script was written by the screenwriters behind Burton’s “Ed Wood”, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. Filming began in Vancouver, British Columbia, in mid-2013. The film was distributed by The Weinstein Company and released in U.S. theaters on December 25, 2014. It received generally positive reviews from critics. In September 2016, an adaptation of Ransom Riggs’ book “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”, which was directed by Burton was released, starring Asa Butterfield and Eva Green, in her second Burton film. He also directed a live-action adaptation of “Dumbo”, released in 2019, with Colin Farrell, Danny DeVito, Eva Green and Michael Keaton starring.
After Kevin Smith had been hired to write a new “Superman” film, he suggested Burton to direct. Burton came on and Warner Bros. set a theatrical release date for the summer of 1998, the 60th anniversary of the character’s debut in Action Comics. Nicolas Cage was signed on to play ‘Superman’, Burton hired Wesley Strick to rewrite Smith’s script and the film entered pre-production in June 1997. For budgetary reasons, Warner Bros. ordered another rewrite from Dan Gilroy, delayed the film and ultimately put it on hold in April 1998. Burton then left to direct “Sleepy Hollow”. Burton has depicted the experience as a difficult one, citing differences with producer Jon Peters and the studio, stating, “I basically wasted a year. A year is a long time to be working with somebody that you don’t really want to be working with.”
It was reported that Burton would direct a 3D stop motion animation adaptation of “The Addams Family”, which was confirmed by Christopher Meledandri, but the project was scrapped on July 17, 2013. On July 19, 2010, he was announced as the director of the upcoming film adaptation of “Monsterpocalypse”. In 2011, it was reported that Burton was working on a live-action adaptation of “The Hunchback of Notre-Dame”, featuring Josh Brolin, who would also be co-producing. The project did not move forward. In July 2012, following the release of both “Dark Shadows” and “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, it was announced that screenwriter and novelist Seth Grahame-Smith was working alongside Burton on a potential “Beetlejuic”e sequel. Actor Michael Keaton has also expressed interest in reprising his role as the title character along with Winona Ryder. In October 2017, Deadline Hollywood reported that Mike Vukadinovich was hired to write a script in time for the film’s 30th anniversary. In April 2019, Warner Bros. stated the sequel had been shelved.
Burton was married to Lena Gieseke, a German-born artist. Their marriage ended in 1991 after four years. He went on to live with model and actress Lisa Marie; she acted in the films he made during their relationship from 1992 to 2001, most notably in “Ed Wood” and “Mars Attacks!”. Burton developed a romantic relationship with English actress Helena Bonham Carter, whom he met while filming “Planet of the Apes”. Marie responded in 2005 by holding an auction of personal belongings that Burton had left behind, much to his dismay. Burton and Bonham Carter have two children: a son, Billy Raymond, named after his and Bonham Carter’s fathers, born in 2003; and a daughter, Nell, born in 2007. Bonham Carter’s representative said in December 2014 that she and Burton had broken up amicably earlier that year. It is unclear whether or not they were married; Bonham Carter has used the word divorce when discussing the end of their relationship while other news outlets state that they never married. On March 15, 2010, Burton received the insignia of Chevalier of Arts and Letters from then-Minister of Culture Frédéric Mitterrand. The same year, he was the President of the Jury for the 63rd annual Cannes Film Festival, held from May 12 to 24 in Cannes, France. On May 20, 2017, a Tim Burton-themed bar named “Beetle House LA” opened in Hollywood, California.
Burton regularly casts the same actors in his film projects. Johnny Depp has been in nine of his films, while ex-partner Helena Bonham Carter has been in seven and Christopher Lee in six. he also frequently casted Jeffrey Jones, Paul Reubens, Glenn Shadix, Michael Keaton, Lisa Marie, Michael Gough and Deep Roy. He also frequently uses composer Danny Elfman. He was slated to direct “The Fly” (1986) with Michael Keaton in the lead role, but he backed out and David Cronenberg took over. Burton was working on a documentary about Vincent Price, called “Conversations with Vincent”. After Price’s death in 1993 he shelved the project and it has never been completed.
Steven Spielberg considered him to direct “Gremlins” (1984). He decided against it, because at the time, Burton had never directed a full-feature length movie. He was also considered to direct “After Hours” (1985), “Dick Tracy” (1990), “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” (1994), “Mary Reilly” (1996), “The Truman Show” (1998), “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” (2000), “X-Men” (2000), “Charlotte’s Web” (2006), “Watchmen” (2009) and “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” (2017). He was also originally set to do a re-make of The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) in the early 1980s but it never happened. He’s a big fan of Italian director Mario Bava. He once said he would like to remake Bava’s classic “Black Sunday” (1960) with his former partner Lisa Marie.He also appeared in two documentaries about Bava. Nearly everywhere he goes, he carries a pocket-size sketchbook and a small watercolour kit. In addition to his filmwork, Burton has exhibited over 700 drawings, paintings, and other artwork and has released books of his artwork.