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Happy Birthday, Tim Burton, Director and Animator

August 25, 2010
by findingDulcinea Staff
Tim Burton is a maverick auteur in a world where filmmakers are often relegated to pleasing Hollywood studios and producers. But his quirky and macabre filmmaking style in films such as "Beetlejuice" and "Edward Scissorhands" has found an audience and earned him continued success.

Tim Burton’s Early Days

Timothy William Burton was born on Aug. 25, 1958, in Burbank, Calif. As a child, he enjoyed watching horror movies and reading Edgar Allan Poe. “Such early influences no doubt helped to form the deliciously ghoulish and artfully warped sensibility of a director who was to become known for his forays into the bizarre outer regions of mainstream celluloid,” writes the All Movie Guide.

Burton won a scholarship to California Institute of the Arts and became an animator at Disney upon graduation. Of his time at the studio, Burton says, “I was just not Disney material. I could just not draw cute foxes for the life of me.”

Burton’s Films

Burton made two animated shorts during his time at Disney: “Vincent,” an homage to Vincent Price featuring the voice of Price himself, and “Frankenweenie,” a take-off on “Frankenstein.” Though Disney refused to release “Frankenweenie,” it impressed Paul Reubens, who hired Burton to direct “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” (1985).

“Pee-Wee,” shot like a live-action cartoon, was a box office smash that earned Burton a reputation for originality. His next film, 1988’s “Beetlejuice,” combined comedy, fantasy and horror, a formula that Burton would use throughout his career.

Burton’s “first two features, both resounding hits, are the work of a visionary artist; they look like no other movies ever made,” wrote Joe Morgenstern wrote in New York Times Magazine. His success gave him the opportunity to direct the big-budget action film “Batman” (1989) and its sequel, “Batman Returns” (1995).

His 1990 film “Edward Scissorhands” featured Price in his last career role and starred Johnny Depp, who would appear in many other Burton films. “Alternately frightening, funny, and touching, Edward Scissorhands proved that Burton could inject humanity and audience empathy into an otherwise unbelievable yarn,” says All Movie Guide.

Burton returned to stop-action animation, a technique he employed in “Vincent,” in the 1993 film “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” “Its success proved that audiences would still respond to this age-old medium even in the face of new and wondrous computer-animated films,” writes Jenny He for the Museum of Modern Art. Burton would also use the animation method in “James and the Giant Peach” (1996) and “Corpse Bride” (2005).

Burton’s later career has included many adaptations and remakes of beloved books, films and musicals, including “Planet of the Apes” (2001), “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005), “Sweeney Todd” (2007) and “Alice in Wonderland” (2010).

In addition to his filmmaking, Burton also enjoys painting and sketching. The Museum of Modern Art in New York held a retrospective of his artwork in 2009-10.

The Rest of the Story

Burton married actress Lisa Marie in 1992, though they divorced in 2001. He soon began a relationship with actress Helena Bonham Carter as they filmed “Planet of the Apes.” Bonham Carter, often referred to as Burton’s “muse,” has starred in all of Burton’s films since their relationship began. They live with their two children in separate homes connected by a hallway.

“That these two should have unconventional living arrangements is less surprising than that they should be together at all,” writes The Daily Telegraph’s William Langley. “The attraction of opposites is one thing, but Helena, 43, the plummy-voiced, porcelain-complexioned, parasol-twiddling prime adornment of the Merchant-Ivory era, and Burton, the ghosted impresario of Gothic chic, seem barely to belong on the same planet.”

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