Timothy Walter "Tim" Burton (born August 25, 1958) is an American animator, film director, and the king of the Perky Goths.
He studied at Cal Arts before being hired as a Disney animator, working together with Andreas Deja. Before rising to fame, he made a live-action short adaptation of "Hansel and Gretel", the animated short called "Vincent" (narrated by Vincent Price), the original short version of "Frankenweenie" and "Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp" for Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre.
Burton's signature style combines creepy situations with childlike wonder and a morbid sense of humor. His work tends to combine goth aesthetics (black and white sets, Creepy Shadowed Undereyes, spooky monsters) with high kitsch suburban settings.
His full length works, most of which are adaptations of something or other, are:
- Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)
- Beetlejuice (1988)
- Batman (1989)
- Edward Scissorhands (1990)*
- Batman Returns (1992)
- Ed Wood (1994)*
- Mars Attacks! (1996)
- Sleepy Hollow (1999)*
- Planet of the Apes (2001)
- Big Fish (2003)
- Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)*
- Corpse Bride (2005; co-director)*
- Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)*
- Alice in Wonderland (2010)*
- Dark Shadows (2012)*
- Frankenweenie (2012; a remake of Burton's 1984 short)
- Big Eyes (2014)
- Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
- Dumbo (2019)
Asterisks indicate titles starring Burton's favorite leading man, Johnny Depp.
Contrary to popular belief, he did not direct 1993's The Nightmare Before Christmas, which was directed by Henry Selick, based on Burton's story. (Burton intended to direct that film, but production on Batman Returns got in the way.) Burton would also co-produce Selick's next film, 1996's James and the Giant Peach, and the feature-length version of Shane Acker's 9.
Notable tropes in Burton's films include:
- Associated Composer: Danny Elfman. Who else?
- Auteur License: He got his after Batman (1989) hit it big.
- Author Avatar: One gets the sense that he is the main character in many of his own movies. Maybe the most obvious was Edward Scissorhands, whose main character was a messy haired Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette with a macabre look about him who had trouble fitting in. This goes double if played by Johnny Depp — one Hollywood producer explained that "Basically, Johnny Depp is playing Tim Burton in all his movies." Depp actually agreed.
- Bizarrchitecture: This trope often crosses over with Scenery Porn.
- Black Comedy: Some of his movies in varying degrees, especially Mars Attacks!.
- Central Theme: His films are usually about isolation, individuality, loneliness and finding your inner self.
- Chekhov's Armoury: On a regular basis.
- Circus of Fear: While not outright coulrophobic, he's terrified of circuses, and loves to play off of this. It crops up in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, both of the Batman films he directed, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Mars Attacks!, among others. Subverted in Big Fish, whose circus people are genuinely friendly folks (although the ringmaster is a werewolf).
- Creator Thumbprint: As listed at the trope entry, there's unusual hands, German Expressionism, dogs, Goth Spirals, and stripes. To a lesser extent, snowy settings, especially if Christmas is involved. Above all these, he loves protagonists who are outcasts in some way.
- He also seems to like casting his attractive girlfriends alongside much hotter male leads. He also seems to like killing off (Mars Attacks! (shot), Sleepy Hollow (iron maiden), Sweeney Todd (roasted alive), or at least giving a less than happy ending to said girlfriends (Big Fish (spinster cat lady), Alice in Wonderland (exiled), Dark Shadows (seemingly killed and dumped in the ocean, but survived), and Planet of the Apes (then girlfriend Lisa Marie and future wife Helena Bonham-Carter were implied to be erased from history).
- His biggest Author Appeal might be Johnny Depp.
- He has a deep appreciation for kitsch. Remember that he grew up in Burbank in the 1960s, which resembled the exact kind of pastel cookie-cutter neighborhood seen in Edward Scissorhands and where the only way to know about the changing of the seasons was to look at the holiday decorations at the local convenience store.
- As character design goes, he frequently includes Messy Hair (much like his own), Undeathly Pallor, Creepy Shadowed Undereyes, and unusual menswear (including exaggerated hats).
- Creepy Children Singing: Very common in his films, especially the ones scored by Danny Elfman.
- Darker and Edgier: Pee-wee's Big Adventure was actually quite colorful and kid friendly, at least compared to Burton's later work. Beetlejuice began to introduce darker and more adult elements, and Burton's output only increased in edginess from that point until we got the downright nihilistic Batman Returns in 1992. Following the ugly backlash to that last film, Burton retreated from his misanthropy a bit and returned to his comedic roots with Ed Wood and Mars Attacks!.
- Dark Is Not Evil: It can be benign, world weary, friendly, helpful — even lovable. That said, when dark is evil, or at least angry, watch out.
- Deliberately Monochrome: Ed Wood and Frankenweenie are in outright black and white, Halloween Town in The Nightmare Before Christmas only has touches of color, Sweeney Todd is shot in mostly desaturated colors, and the living world in Corpse Bride is much grayer than the world of the dead.
- Dream Team: He was the character designer for the Steven Spielberg produced, Brad Bird directed Amazing Stories episode "Family Dog." It was exactly as awesome as is to be expected.
- Dutch Angle: Crops up in a majority of his films, ranging from blatantly obvious to the blink and you'll miss it variety. For particular examples, please examine Batman (1989) and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
- Flashback: These figure in Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Big Fish (as an alternate explanation of some of the father's stories), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland (2010), and Dark Shadows (whew!).
- German Expressionism: His aesthetic style is completely derived from this film movement.
- Goth Spirals: One of his signature motifs, which he subverts when it even pops up in his less spooky films. Look closely at the page picture; he even has one in his hair.
- The Grotesque: Edward Scissorhands is an excellent modern example. The Penguin in Batman Returns is a cruel subversion — he masquerades as this to gain sympathy and make a grab for power.
- Heterosexual Life-Partner: His house is apparently divided down the middle, one half for his wife (Helena Bonham-Carter) and his two children, and the other for BFF Johnny Depp.
- Loners Are Freaks: It seems like he dedicated almost all of his movies to invert the trope.
- Looks Like Cesare: Not only does Burton himself look like this, so do Edward Scissorhands and Sweeney Todd. (the latter had Depp adding he has a nephew with that Skunk Stripe)
- Looks Like Orlok: The Penguin.
- Misunderstood Loner with a Heart of Gold: With Edward Scissorhands as the trope codifier.
- Nightmare Face: Burton usually manages to sneak at least one into his movies somewhere. For example, Large Marge in Pee-wee's Big Adventure, the newscaster who takes Smilex in Batman (1989), the witch in the forest in Sleepy Hollow, Jack scaring Lock, Shock, and Barrel in The Nightmare Before Christmas, Beetlejuice, (many examples), the twins in Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children and so on and so forth. Even in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the young Wonka sports a rather nightmarish set of braces.
- Our Monsters Are Different: Many of Burton's protagonists consist of characters who are viewed as terrifying to other characters, but they're actually the heroes of the piece, even if what they do is not in tune with everyone else.
- Person as Verb: "Burtonesque" is often used to describe something with a gothic, quirky style.
- Perky Goth: While he may not be the Trope Namer, he is a stand out. He loves building his films around something in the gothic and the macabre, but Burton himself is a very peace-loving Nice Guy.
- Recycled Trailer Music: The scores for Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Edward Scissorhands, and The Nightmare Before Christmas turn up as the music to trailers for other films quite often.
- Retraux: Many of his films are made to look as if they're set during the forties, fifties, or sixties (the years of Burton's childhood and his parents' adolescence), with contemporary elements seeded throughout.
- Scenery Porn: It's not for nothing Batman, Sleepy Hollow, and Sweeney Todd won art direction Oscars.
- Sitcom Arch-Nemesis: An extremely brief one-sided to with Kevin Smith. Burton was indirectly responsible to getting Smith kicked off of the failed Superman reboot, Superman Lives. A few years later, Smith half-jokingly accused Burton of ripping off one of his comic books for Planet of the Apes, to which Burton gave the uncharacteristically nasty response of "Anyone who knows me knows I would never read anything written by Kevin Smith." Smith put this quote on the back of his autobiography.
- Signature Style: Johnny Depp and/or Helena Bonham-Carter, and Looks Like Cesare. Even Alice's characters all looked like they needed more sleep.
- Christopher Lee also appeared in many of his Turn of the Millennium-era films before Lee's death.
- Goth Spirals
- His especially distinct drawing style. His puppet and drawing designs are instantly recognizable: characters with big white onion or almond shaped heads and big eyes, monsters with long and thin jaws◊...
- The color red stands out in his films.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: While Batman Returns and Sweeney Todd can be more on the cynical end, most of his films are on the idealistic end of the scale despite his dark and weird movies and characters.
- Technician vs. Performer: The performer. His films are more known for their style than their stories; they are there, but they tend to be simpler tales, and the more complex ones, like Alice, tend to be weaker.
- Troubled Backstory Flashback: Bruce Wayne in Batman (1989), the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland (2010), Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow, Edward in Edward Scissorhands, Emily (via song) in Corpse Bride, Sweeney Todd, and Maggie (Victoria) in Dark Shadows.