8 Awesome Things About Tim Burton
Johnny Depp in "Dark Shadows"
Photo Credit: Warner Brothers
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The new movie Dark Shadows took a decade to drop. A long-running bit of Tim Burton/Johnny Depp lore, the dynamic duo has been trying to make a film based on their favorite kitschy ‘60s vampire television show for years—so to have it released in theaters seems almost beyond comprehension for megafans. Unfortunately, though, it seems like it might have been left in the oven a little too long: critics are panning it like nobody’s business, despite its marquee director-star pairing and a packed cast that includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter and Jackie Earle Haley.
It's odd that a project so labored over and long aspired to by Burton and Depp—the latter has spoken lovingly about watching the original show as a kid—could flop. That said: lest Dark Shadows is truly that unpleasurable, here are eight things to remind you why Tim Burton is awesome.
1. His politics.
In case you couldn’t surmise by the subtexts of his films—in which dastardly conservative characters regularly get their gruesome comeuppance—Tim Burton is ready and willing to lash out and mock the ridiculous trappings of our politics. In Mars Attacks!, his 1996 film about... Mars attacking, he takes down everybody with his awesome macabre humor. When it’s unclear to humanity whether the clacking, wild-eyed Martians come in peace or to destroy the planet, he writes it large by having a stereotypical Jesus-esque hippie unleash a dove, which promptly gets zapped by a hostile Martian. That film portrays the military in hilariously Dr. Strangelove-esque rigidity (which would later become a reality with the advent of Donald Rumsfeld), and Burton takes great pleasure in visually destroying America, including the Washington Monument. In that sense, he’s got the visual inclinations of a good old feisty progressive artist, where nothing’s sacred and there’s always a larger truth.
2. He doesn’t condescend to children.
Aside from the systematic entrenchment of princess culture, there’s another way Disney is helping to ruin America’s children: treating them like their imaginations are as dainty as Cinderella’s glass slipper. Tim Burton makes children’s tales with a sense of the macabre, like Nightmare Before Christmas and the newly rebooted Frankenweenie, about a bull terrier resurrected by lightning by a young Frankenstein. In 2009, Burton spoke on how the shiny-happy children’s story infringes on his own ability to make movies:
..."When I was first doing stuff like Beetlejuice or Batman I used to get a lot of s**t for things being dark... When I was working on Nightmare Before Christmas I had endless arguments with the studio heads who said, 'You can't have a main character that's got no eyeballs. How is someone gonna feel about somebody with just eye sockets?'"
And yet, that’s exactly what he did. "Most great children's literature is politically incorrect,” he said at the time, “so I don't know why they can't get used to it by now.” In case you forgot: the original Grimm’s Cinderella portrays her stepsisters slicing off part of their feet to squeeze into the slipper. Grody/awesome.
3. Halloween 2009.
Last year, the news broke that in October 2009, midway through the financial crisis, the Obamas had an elaborate, A lice in Wonderland-themed Halloween party for schoolchildren from the DC area, which Burton and Johnny Depp attended (the latter in full Mad Hatter costume). While the conservative blogosphere was collectively reaching for angles to demonize a party for a bunch of eight-year-olds, we were searching for pics on Google so we could Tumblr them stat. The result was this: an amazing image of Burton and Depp posing with Malia as the Morton Salt girl, Sasha as something we can’t peg, Michelle as a leopard and killjoy daddy Obama wearing a dad sweater. How can one be mad at this, other than being salty at not getting an invite? It was a Halloween party for area schoolchildren, and Johnny Depp went to the White House dressed as a somewhat scary, crazed haberdasher! And it was all Burton’s doing.