Today we will tell you the biography and the works of Tim Burton, one of the most loved directors here in Zoa Studio, on the occasion of his birthday. We wouldn’t have mentioned him over and over again if we didn’t love him! Already a few years ago, one of the first issues of this blog, talked about him. Burton is one of the few American directors to bring a lot of profits to the film world while managing to maintain a very personal universe, a style and an undeniable artistic ambition, of which we speak now.
Tim Burton, the anti-Disney
Tim Burton, born on August 25, 1958 in Burbank, California, spent a lonely childhood, preferring the company of monsters movies like Godzilla, Frankenstein and its sequels. But it is above all in drawing that he excels and it is therefore quite natural that, after secondary school, he leaves to study animation at the California Institute of Arts.
At the end of this experience, in 1979, he was hired directly by the Disney studios. But he struggles to orient himself, because his very personal vision of drawing is too different from that of Disney.
Five years later, after collaborating with Rox and Rouky, he made several short films, including Vincent (1982) and Frankenweenie (1984). He also wrote a poem (which would serve as the basis, ten years later, for the screenplay of The Nightmare Before Christmas), left the Disney studios and in 1985 the Warner Bros film house chose him to direct Pee Wee Big Adventure, his first feature film. Less than a month of shooting, this feature film was a surprise at the box office: Tim Burton thus signed his first success.
He also begins a musical partnership with Danny Elfman, which will last, with ups and downs, for a long time.
Three years after the release of Pee Wee Big Adventure, Burton is again chosen to direct Beetlejuice. Thanks to the crazy imagination of its lead actor, Michel Keaton, the film was a success and received an Oscar for make-up. Warner Bros then entrusts him with a great project, Batman. Burton, who has always wanted to examine Batman’s dual personality, accepts. He calls Michael Keaton again to play the masked vigilante and and Prince for the music. The film was a huge box office success despite the protests it sparked at the time of filming.
Success and failure of Tim Burton
But, morally, Burton feels a bit empty, so much so that he has to create a more intimate film: Edward Scissorhands comes out. Warner Bros is not interested in the project at all, so Burton turns to the 20th Century Fox studio. To play Edward in Edward Scissorhands, he appeals to Johnny Depp: between them, the perfect understanding, sets the stage for a beautiful friendship. A true call for tolerance, carried along by the interpretations of the aforementioned Johnny Depp and Winona Ryder, the film is hailed as a masterpiece by all critics.
In 1992, Burton faces the second part of Batman’s adventures. This new work, with an even darker scenario than the first, exposes him to criticism from many parents who consider the film too scary for their children. However, the film triumphs again at the box office. The following year, The Nightmare Before Christmas is brought to the screens. But contrary to popular belief, it is not directed by Tim Burton but by Henry Selick (closely followed by Tim Burton). At the time of filming, Burton gets mad at Danny Elfman, his favorite composer, who composed most of the melodies in his previous films.
A dispute that lasted three years: in 1994, Burton directed Ed Wood, the bizarre story of Edward Davis Wood Junior. He once again chooses to entrust the role of this Edward too – who, like the previous one, has many ties to his life – to Johnny Depp. Even though the film won two Oscars (for Best Supporting Actor to Martin Landau and for makeup), it was a commercial failure.
Then follows Mars Attacks, a parody of the low-budget sci-fi films of the 1950s: a global commercial failure. The only positive note: Burton and Danny Elfman reconcile.
Tim Burton and the new millennium
On the eve of the new millennium, with Sleepy Hollow, released in 1999, Tim Burton rediscovers his universe in full: goth atmospheres, mass beheaded corpses, headless demons, medieval demonic legends … a universe similar to that of Edward Gorey if we think about it.
And back to critical and commercial success, supported in particular by actors Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci, Christopher Lee, Christopher Walken. The film also gets the Oscar for Best Art Direction. Since the 2000s, Tim Burton frees himself from pure fantasy and dedicates himself to new exercises: the remake of the Planet of the Apes (2001), or the sweet tale Big Fish, a praise of the imagination against the flatness of the real world (2003).
In 2005, he completed a five-year project, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s masterpiece. He collaborates for the fourth time with Johnny Depp. Four months later, Corpse Bride hit the screens, but despite critical acclaim, the film was a box office failure, unlike Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
In 2008, Sweeney Todd was released: the diabolical barber of Fleet Street. The film enjoyed mixed success, but earned the production designer a second Oscar for art direction.
The reconnection with Disney and the 2010s
Eventually, Burton ended up reconnecting with Disney when it came time to make a new Alice in Wonderland adaptation. This is one of Tim Burton’s greatest hits.
In 2012, the director presented Dark Shadows with Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green and Chloë Grace Moretz. The film won neither the public nor the critics. The same year, the animated film Frankenweenie, a remake of his short film, was released.
In 2014, Tim Burton dirette the film Big Eyes (biopic on Margaret and Walter Keane) with Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. 2014 also marks the end of the relationship with actress Helena Bonham Carter, who starred in some of his films and mother of two.
Also in that year Burton began shooting Miss Peregrine, which was released in 2016, with Eva Green, Judi Dench and Asa Butterfield.
Three years later, Burton directs another remake of a Disney masterpiece, Dumbo. Personally, I cried with emotion both with the first one and with the remake as well!
In February 2021, it was announced that Burton would direct and produce Wednesday, a series for Netflix based on the main character of the Addams Family. This marks Burton’s first foray into television directing since the 1980s. The series, which began production in September 2021, is expected to be released on Netflix shortly. Waiting to see it, we’ll be here reading Tim Burton’s illustration book, The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories.