(1958 - present)
Three Key Films: Batman (1989), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Ed Wood (1994)
Underrated: Frankenweenie (1984). This charming short (soon to be remade by Burton as an animated feature) about a boy who resurrects his dead dog is a humorous homage to both Mary Shelley’s novel Frankenstein and the 1931 James Whale movie of the same name. Burton spins the concept into a tale of childhood loss and adult prejudice that unfolds in a seemingly innocent slice of suburbia. This movie never seems to receive much attention and is often forgotten in the midst of Burton’s more famous films, but it remains an engaging example of Burton’s imagination run adoringly amok. Stuffed with clever nods to the imagery and design of Whale’s classic picture (the incorporation of a windmill into the narrative is particularly smart), Frankenweenie offers an early look at Burton’s careful ability to transform parody into something uniquely refreshing.
Unforgettable: When titular hero Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp) crafts his ultimate masterpiece, an ice sculpture of love interest Kim (Winona Ryder), his sharp appendages rain ice chips down from the sky and fabricate a sense of snow finally falling in the perpetually warm suburban town. Kim takes this gentle, unique moment to dance in the snow as Danny Elfman’s score soars effortlessly. It is a magically romantic moment in a story of forbidden love.
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
The Legend: Born in Burbank, California Tim Burton began his career as an animator and artist at Walt Disney Animation Studios, where he developed an interest in exploring dark, personal projects. His big break came when he was selected by Paul Reubens to direct a big-screen Pee-Wee Herman movie titled Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure (1985). The financial success of that movie opened the doors to large-scale projects such as Beetlejuice (1988) and Batman. These first three features (and nearly every movie to follow) allowed Burton to explore many of his favourite themes (innocence, loneliness, social awkwardness, heroic responsibility in the face of unusual obstacles) and then reconcile the pain of these themes into something dramatically meaningful and visually fascinating, mixing art with commerce.
The look of a Burton movie is unmistakable and he has managed to define a unique style (a sort of decrepit, fantastical exaggeration of something recognizable) in nearly all facets of his cinematic designs. He tends to favour a polarizing colour palette, with dark blues and greys being offset by splashes of red or a rainbow of pastels. He did employ a black-and-white approach for his biopic about cult classic filmmaker and tragic figure Ed Wood (his most grounded film to date and quite possibly his best, too), but he rarely strays from his iconic blend of gothic darkness and whimsical brightness (see the deceptively dark summer blockbuster Batman Returns  for one of the best examples of this). Burton’s strict adherence to a singular style may feel repetitive in later movies, but his overall filmography reveals a gifted storyteller with a slightly demented Willy Wonka-esque flavor all his own.
Burton has a grand ability to gather all of his inspirations (Vincent Price movies, Hammer horror, fairy tales) and then employ them to populate a very personal vision. But such employment only occurs once the inspirations have been internalized and reshaped to emerge with Burton’s specific stamp. Even when tackling a biopic about a specific inspiration (Ed Wood) or directing Vincent Price in a small role (Edward Scissorhands) or paying tribute to Hammer’s fright flicks (Sleepy Hollow ), Burton’s imagination always shines through. His style and dedication to whimsical weirdness is impossible to eclipse. When he marries that style to a story filled with heart and humour, the result is often something magical, an emotionally poignant flirtation of loneliness and acceptance. In a triumph of personal passion, Burton’s best movies play like immersive odes to the outsider, viewing from the fringes and felt deeply from within. Aaron Leggo