The Rise and Fall and Rise and Maybe Fall Again of Tim Burton

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The big movie out now is Disney’s live action version of Cinderella. It’s certainly not the first time an animated Disney classic has got the real life treatment. Peter Pan, Sleeping Beauty (Maleficent), and Snow White have all recently been brought to life with grand sets and A list actors. The Jungle Book is next in line with Bill Murray as Baloo which right now could be a tossup as hilarious or extremely unnecessary. But then there’s the king of the adaption and remake Tim Burton who reportedly just agreed to do a live action version of Dumbo.

This early forties classic for those of you who can’t quite remember is about the flying elephant who is dramatically separated from his Mother and taught to fly because of his gigantic ears. It was a hit despite being the shortest animated Disney feature. It’s beloved and it doesn’t need to be touched; in fact, it hasn’t for nearly 75 years. I know what you’re thinking, the sets could look incredible. The traveling circus could be a wonder to behold and Dumbo soaring through the air could be a crowning technological achievement. Animal rights groups are fighting hard on it already, demanding all animals be digital and that plot elements of cruelty be changed.

All in all, it’s a pretty unnecessary move but why would Disney not if Cinderella has already raked in over 100 million. And with one of the quirkiest and most beloved directors attached, it’s going to be a surefire hit. I’ll start off by saying Tim Burton is one of my all time favorite directors and he could bring a unique spin to this story, but I’m sad to say we all know he won’t. Don’t believe me? What about his live Disney adaption of Alice in Wonderland?

Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and Alan Rickman, what could go wrong? Hours of CGI and bizarre animation of course. The story was thin and weak while the animation was overbearing and strange. It was unnecessarily in 3D and made a mockery of the stories magical elements. Tim muddled it up with too much quirkiness and oddball characters. There was simply no story that couldn’t make up its mind between live action and animation.

If that weren’t enough, Tim also tackled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, again with Depp. It had its moments but it was nowhere near as fun, dark, and humorous as the 1971 Gene Wilder version. Again, this film lost the story’s heart and themes. Now these two were big successes, earning hundreds of millions and becoming the top earners of his career. Other adaptations like Dark Shadows and the mythically hated Planet of the Apes failed with critics and fans alike.

But we call know Tim can do it. Batman launched his career, showing that he could bring a darker and more interesting level to work we already knew. So what happened? He used to be an innovative genus with interesting and well told dramas like Edward Scissorhands or comedies like Beetlejuice.  I think we all know cash and frequent collaborators stood in the way.

Burton recently split with his wife Helena and decided to pick projects that weren’t with Depp. Fans were treated to Big Eyes, an intimate low budget drama about art history and a woman named Margret Keane. It was fresh, funny, dramatic, and very original without his recent style or collaborators. The film was a reminder what Burton could do when he wasn’t distracted with budget and CGI. It was a mini comeback for him after fans rejected his last few outings and critics abandoned him long ago.

Now on his to do list, he has currently started filming a strange family movie Miss Peregine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Again, this one could go either way. Then there’s a long awaited sequel to Beetlejuice about his cousin Beetle Bernie which you all know will be bogged down by special effects. The eighties charm will be lost and its relevance is long gone. The first one is a classic, but it doesn’t need a sequel.

Now there’s Dumbo. It makes sense Burton would sign on after his resume in the last ten years. But it’s unfair since we just saw what he was still capable of with the lovely Big Eyes dramady. If he focused his attention on lower key films, I think audiences and critics would return to him and he would have the acclaim that he once did. Oh there’s still a huge fan base, but it has changed significantly since Pee-Wee Herman was released. One thing we do know is there is an enormous group of Disney lovers who will see anything they make. It has been the premier family entertainment studio since the 1930’s. Dumbo is a strange film to remake while Cinderella kind of makes sense although not much new was brought to the table. Could be daring and interesting if it’s a lot more low key and real. But that Mr. Burton is up to you.

By Ryan Uytdewilligen


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