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Despite his contrarian artiste nature and indie filmmaker persona, director Tim Burton helmed some of the biggest blockbusters in Hollywood history. With his roots in drawing and animation, Burton crafted over his career distinctly designed films that reflected the gothic horror influences of his youth. Starting with "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" (1985), Burton quickly developed a reputation for a surreal artistic vision that often overshadowed narrative necessities. But his films were financially successful, leading to him directing the first two installments of the lucrative Dark Knight series, "Batman" (1989) and "Batman Returns" (1992). With "Ed Wood" (1994), however, Burton finally earned the respect of critics with his comically optimistic look at a befuddling filmmaker (Johnny Depp) prone to cross-dressing and making bad movies. Further cementing his reputation as a visual artist of the highest caliber, Burton lent his dark, deft touch to the likes of "Sleepy Hollow" (1999), "Big Fish" (2003) and the acclaimed macabre musical, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (2007). Three years later, the director delivered the smash hit "Alice in Wonderland" (2010), quickly followed by "Dark Shadows" (2012) and "Frankenweenie" (2012). Once considered an eccentric outsider, Burton had, without a doubt, evolved in to one of Hollywood's most admired and successful filmmakers with an instantly recognizable point of view.
Born on Aug. 25, 1958 in Burbank, CA, Burton grew up a lonely and isolated child who quickly became disenchanted with his homogenized suburban surroundings. Burton's withdrawal from his home life - particularly from his father - led him to spend time daydreaming, watching B-movies and pouring through issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland. Eventually, his inability to communicate - coupled with his fascination with the macabre side of Hollywood - sparked an interest in drawing and animation. When he was 10 years old, Burton went to live with his grandmother until he reached high school, much to the dismay of his parents. In that cauldron of simmering adolescence, Burton only grew more withdrawn, cementing his feelings as perennial outsider, a theme that later permeated his finest work. Though not a good student, his artistic talent nonetheless earned him a scholarship from Disney Animation to learn the craft at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA.
Drawing inspiration from Vincent Price movies, German expressionism and Gothic horror movies from the 1930s, Burton went to work for the Mouse House as an apprentice animator, though he ultimately proved to be ill-equipped to do things the Disney way. After working as an animator on "The Fox and the Hen" (1981), Burton was given $60,000 by Disney to create anything he wished, which he used to make the six-minute animated short, "Vincent" (1982), a wryly amusing film portraying the dual life of a tortured, but seemingly normal suburban child who lives in a fantasy world of Gothic horror while imagining that he is Vincent Price (who incidentally served as narrator). The autobiographical character was a prototype for the misunderstood, sympathetic outsider at the center of most of Burton's subsequent films. He followed up with the partially live-action "Frankenweenie" (1984), an inventive twist on the "Frankenstein" story that depicted a young boy who brings his dog back to life by jump-starting him with a car battery. Considered too outré for a Disney product, the short failed to receive a proper release until 1992 when it finally became available on video and on The Disney Channel.
A private showing of "Frankenweenie" for Paul Reubens landed Burton his first feature directing assignment on the superlatively silly "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" (1985). Though his first two films had been in black and white, the director adjusted readily, using primary colors to create Pee Wee's surreal, cartoon-like world without completely abandoning the dark side revealed in Pee Wee's nightmares. Though most critics savaged the goofy film, "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" found a sizable audience and a surprised industry duly took immediate notice of Burton's talents. Building on the live-action cartoon style of his debut, Burton's next feature, "Beetlejuice" (1988), employed a fantastic array of outstanding special effects to tell the campy ghost story of a newly married couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) who die in a car accident and enlist the help of an obnoxious spirit guide (Michael Keaton) to drive out the new owners of their house. "Beetlejuice" became another surprise sleeper hit for Burton; after only two films, he suddenly found himself to be an intriguing choice to direct Hollywood blockbusters.
His first was "Batman" (1989), a project which allowed him to return to his beloved long shadows, jagged angles and distorted perspective for the imagery of the appropriately named Gotham City - a collaboration with Oscar-winning set designer Anton Furst. The first in a series of immensely successful films about the infamous Caped Crusader, "Batman" vaulted Burton to the top tier of directors, thanks in large part to the then record-breaking take at the box office and his validation in casting Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne, despite an initial outcry from comic fans. Burton's even darker "Batman Returns" (1992) made it evident, however, that a coherent narrative was an afterthought when compared with the director's remarkable visual style. For the first installment, that capability overcame the clunky story and somewhat leaden action sequences to bring in more than $400 million worldwide and a cool billion in merchandising. Unfortunately, the second "Batman" suffered a lackluster performance at the box office, particularly considering its sizeable budget. His decision to pass the reins to Joel Schumacher for "Batman Forever" (1995) probably brought a sigh of relief from studio execs, ecstatic to be free from Burton's grim vision. Little did they realize what havoc Schumacher would wreak on their beloved franchise.
In between the two "Batman" movies, Burton helmed "Edward Scissorhands" (1990), an unique fable about a man-made boy (Johnny Depp) whose creator (Vincent Price) dies before attaching hands to his body. Visually, the pastel plasticity of suburbia contrasted sharply with the Gothic angles of the scientist's mountaintop home, just as that Day-Glo community's superficial welcome vanished in the face of mob frenzy when Edward's differences became too threatening for the close-knit society. As the title character, Depp was extremely effective in his nearly mute, wide-eyed performance, and Burton's mentor, Price, provided a distinct emotional context in his cameo as the inventor. Despite his success, Burton remained a misunderstood outsider, while "Edward Scissorhands," a moderate hit in commercial terms, went on to become the movie that remained closest to his heart. Burton returned to animation as producer and creator of "Tim Burton's 'The Nightmare Before Christmas'" (1993), the first full length stop-motion animated film produced by Disney. Burton first came up with the idea while employed by the studio in the early 1980s, though it spent the next decade languishing in development hell. He finally had the project green-lit when he turned it over the reigns to old friend and animator Henry Selick. Wildly imaginative in its excursion to the macabre, this twisted cousin to cuddly Disney classics only confirmed Burton as a commercial wunderkind and made the film required holiday viewing at either Christmas or Halloween.
With his next feature, "Ed Wood" (1994), Burton finally began to earn the respect of critics who previous savaged his work, particularly the writing. His decision to shoot in black and white, however, caused Columbia to pull out, leaving the field clear for Disney. Starring Johnny Depp as "the world's worst director," Burton's first period piece also featured Martin Landau in an astonishing, Academy Award-winning turn as an aged and drug-addicted Bela Lugosi, the actor who had portrayed Count Dracula in early 1930s Universal films. While smaller in scope than his last three outings, "Ed Wood" was also the first Burton movie grounded in a truthful, albeit bizarre, historical reality, unlike the internally consistent but fictional worlds of "Scissorhands" and the "Batman" movies. The cinematic love letter to Hollywood's Poverty Row, "Ed Wood" was an extremely personal film, and many critics cited parallels between Wood's relationship with Lugosi to Burton's with Price. Despite its vivid recreation of time and place, it unfortunately did not appeal to mass tastes, bringing his string of box office successes to an end. Nonetheless, Burton's passion and love for filmmaking - much the same as Ed Wood's own feelings - was evident in every frame.
Burton turned his attention next to "Mars Attacks!" (1996), a big budget special effects bonanza that spoofed the grade-Z sci-fi thrillers of the 1950s and 1960s. Boasting an all-star cast that included Annette Bening, Glenn Close, Michael J. Fox and Jack Nicholson in a dual role, the film combined live-action with superb animation to tell its overly self-satisfied, ultimately one-note tale of an alien invasion of earth. Fabulous production design could not carry the day, however, proving that Burton's unquestioned visual genius needed to be a strong supporting character to a strong narrative. Its box office failure was due in part to the success of the similarly themed blockbuster, "Independence Day" (1996), released some five months earlier. Though not branding the wunderkind an overnight pariah, certainly studios were more cautious whether or not Burton's delightfully demented vision would continue to sell.
Burton rebounded with "Sleepy Hollow" (1999), a loosely based adaptation of Washington Irving's famous story, starring Depp - who was fast becoming Burton's onscreen male muse - as discredited professor Ichabod Crane, who is exiled to Sleepy Hollow where he confronts the local myth of the headless horseman. While "Sleepy Hollow" successfully grafted Burton's unique sensibilities onto a well-known tale, he was far less successful with the next established property he tackled, an overdone, over-the-top remake of "Planet of the Apes" (2001) that failed to capitalize on either the principal appeal of the source material or Burton's established cinematic style. Starring Mark Wahlberg as an American pilot stranded in an upside-down world ruled by apes, the film of course featured Burton's trademark stunning design, but thanks to a poorly conceived story, it proved to be a major bump in his career. Burton took a well-received step forward with " Big Fish" (2003), the tale of a disgruntled young man (Billy Crudup) and his dying father (Albert Finney) trying to reconcile their relationship, despite the father's overblown tales of his youth (played in flashback by Ewan McGregor). Perhaps inspired by his own family difficulties, "Big Fish" provided Burton with a heartfelt tale upon which to graft his visionary quirks.
For Burton, it was on to another even more fanciful and outrageous project - this time with his frequent collaborator Depp as the magical candy maker Willie Wonka for Burton's version of author Roald Dahl's "Charlie & the Chocolate Factory" (2005). Burton's interpretation hewed closer to the book and was predictably darker. But he also imbued it with his uniquely imaginative touch, making what The Hollywood Reporter called "a film about kids and for kids that has not lost touch with what it is like to actually be a kid." That same year, Burton conceived, produced and co-directed another stop-motion animated opus for youngsters, "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride," the story of a young Victorian man (voiced by Depp) who is whisked away to the underworld to wed a mysterious undead woman (voiced by Burton's frequent collaborator and new girlfriend, Helena Bonham Carter), but seeks to escape and reunite with his true love.
Once again back in top form, Burton directed perhaps his best film to date, "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street" (2007), a big screen adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Tony Award-winning horror musical; itself an adaptation of Christopher Bond's 1973 play. Burton again teamed with Johnny Depp, who played the titular character, an embittered ex-convict wrongly imprisoned by a lecherous judge who returns to his hometown to open a barber shop where he cuts the hair - among other things - of those who wronged him. Most critics raved about "Sweeney Todd," citing its macabre humor and unique genre twist as being perfect for Burton's dark sensibilities. Burton also received rare award recognition, earning a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director.
A relatively low-profile period followed for Burton, with a producer's contribution on the visually arresting, but indifferently received animated fantasy "9" (2009) being his only credit. That was until "Alice in Wonderland" (2010), a big-budget, special effects-laden reinterpretation of Carroll's classic, directed by Burton for Disney. Although relative newcomer Mia Wasikowska starred as the titular Alice, it was once again Depp, as the Mad Hatter, along with Bonham Carter's Queen of Hearts, who stole the show. More action-adventure extravaganza than surreal fable, the movie was the biggest of Burton's career and the second-highest grossing film of the year. Once again, the quirky filmmaker was a Hollywood darling. Two years later, Burton reteamed with Depp and Bonham Carter for the gothic horror-comedy "Dark Shadows" (2012), a loose adaptation of the spooky daytime soap opera from the late 1960s. Also starring Michelle Pfeiffer and Chlöe Grace Moretz, it took a decidedly campy take on the material, focusing more on resurrected vampire Barnabas Collins' (Depp) fish-out-of-water story than the melodramatic horror elements of the original. Despite lofty expectations, it failed to satisfy most die-hard fans. Next up was the historical-horror hybrid "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" (2012), directed by Timur Bekmambetov and produced by Burton, followed by "Frankenweenie" (2012), a stop-motion big-screen adaptation of the short film he had made for Disney nearly 30 years earlier. The pet project fleshed out the story of a gifted boy who brings his dog Sparky back from the dead. Burton's next project, "Big Eyes" (2014), reunited him with "Ed Wood" screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski for the true tale of Walter and Margaret Keane, whose paintings of saucer-eyed children were a popular sensation in the 1950s and '60s. The film, starring Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams, garnered Burton's most positive reviews in years.
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Released first animated (stop-motion) short film "Vincent"; won several film festival awards
Made live-action short "Frankenweenie" about a boy who brings his deceased dog back to life; film inspired Paul Reubens to give him his first feature directing assignment
Feature directing debut, "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" starring Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman), also marked first collaboration with music composer Danny Elfman
First collaboration with Michael Keaton, Wynona Ryder and Jeffrey Jones, "Beetlejuice"
Founded Tim Burton Productions
Helmed the enormously popular "Batman," starring Jack Nicholson as the Joker and Keaton as the Caped Crusader
First feature producing credit, "Edward Scissorhands," starring Johnny Depp and Ryder; also directed
Helmed "Batman Returns," starring Danny De Vito as the Penguin; Reubens showed up in cameo as the Penguin's father
Feature acting debut in Cameron Crowe's "Singles"
Produced "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas," a 72-minute animated musical feature, directed by stop-motion guru and friend Henry Selick
Second feature with Depp starring as the title role in "Ed Wood"
Turned the directing reins over to Joel Schumacher but retained his connection to the franchise as a producer of "Batman Forever"
Produced Selick's stop-motion animated feature "James and the Giant Peach"
Produced and directed "Mars Attacks!"; second film with Nicholson, who played dual role of U.S. President and a sleazy Las Vegas car dealer
Directed first TV commercial, pitching Hollywood Gum for the European market
Reteamed with Depp (as Ichabod Crane) in "Sleepy Hollow," adapted from Washington Irving's "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"
Helmed the remake of "Planet of the Apes," starring Mark Wahlberg
Directed "Big Fish," a life-affirming story about fathers and sons starring Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor
Reteamed with Johnny Depp (as Willy Wonka) to remake Roald Dahl's classic tale "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"
Helmed the animated feature "Corpse Bride," featuring the voices of Depp and Helena Bonham Carter; received an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature
Directed "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street," the feature adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical; re-teamed with longtime collaborator Depp who played the title role; earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Director for a Motion Picture
Produced the animated sci-fi film "9"
Directed the fantasy adventure film "Alice in Wonderland," an extension of the Lewis Carroll novels Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass
Once again directed Depp (as Barnabas Collins) in feature remake of the gothic soap opera "Dark Shadows"
Directed full-length animated feature "Frankenweenie" based on his 1984 short film