If you know anything about me, it’s that I have a very antagonistic and angry relationship with Tim Burton. The last 16 or so years from the man has delivered some of the most abjectly terrible and harsh experiences I’ve ever had to sit through at the movies. From his truly abysmal Alice In Wonderland movie to the original sign of trouble, Planet of The Apes. Tim Burton has to this point made the only bad Planet Of The Apes movie, and that is a real god damn achievement. Throw in the horribly misguided Charlie and The Chocolate Factory and a truly lobotomistic Dark Shadows, and that is a truly strained cinematic output. Sure, every now and then he’ll try to move past his corporate sell out work and do something low key, but even then those have been only moderately successful. Big Fish probably being the biggest success of the group, but Corpse Bride and Big Eyes aren’t gonna really do much to sell a comeback narrative. So I’ve been a big anti Burton man in the last decade plus, and those who know this about me and have heard me rant about it automatically assume I hate everything the man has done. But that is patently untrue. The reason I am so hard on the man and rail against how corporately bland he’s become is that I love so much of his early work.
When I was a youngun, a lot of Burtons work was a part of my life. TV and VHS tapes were a big part of my youth and helped to foster the cinematic love that would surround my life. Pee Wee’s Big Adventure was a real jolt of imagination to my mind, my only real entry into the Pee Wee world since I didn’t partake in the show. Beetlejuice was one of the earliest examples of horror iconography being introduced to my mind, as well as dark comedy. Batman 89/Returns are the entry way into comic books for me. Hell, I was young enough for Mars Attacks to work on me like gangbusters. And I still have a real strong love for these movies, even if there’s some issues to be had with them as a critical thinking adult. But for me, the favorite movie connected to him then and now is the one he didn’t actually direct. The one that my little mind back just saw his name and assumed it was him. A movie that sends me back to that childhood wonder just thinking about it. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a masterful movie, and maybe the first point in my growing disillusionment with Burton.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my favorite movies ever, quite possibly my favorite animated movie. Having seen this at such a young age is, with hindsight, quite the formative experience for me. It helped to cement the love of horror into me, more so than Beetlejuice. The animated nature of it allowed a much more interesting imaginative streak to it than the live action comedy could have (though that’s not to say it’s boring). The narrative was an ingenious blend of so many different tones and styles while congealing into a cohesive narrative, something I would love a great deal as a film watcher and an aspiring writer. There’s a reason I connect so deeply to likes of John Carpenter and Quentin Tarantino, amongst others. The visuals are eye popping, so much more original and striking than the traditional animation I was subjected to amongst other Disney projects and Saturday Morning cartoons. It featured prominently my two favorite holidays. But most of all, if I had to say anyone thing has connected with me still to this day, it is the idea running through it of understanding one’s limits.
As children, at least of my generation, we are told we can do anything we want when we grow up. Be anything we want. The sky is the limit and nothing can stop us. I’m not gonna make any grand proclamations about my own personality, but it has affected others in my generation profoundly, in very negative ways. Mainly that a good deal of my generation has become over privileged whiners, never wanting to take the hard way to earn whatever is coming to them. No, it should all be handed to them. There’s a reason why Bernie Sanders and Donald limpdick Trump have caught on with young people. Bernie tells them everything will be gifted to them on a silver plated platter while Trump promises to bring us back to the days where even the most mediocre white guy can succeed without issue as more than half the population would be taken out of competition.
Sure, the world is tough these days as the oversaturation of college degrees has thrown the entire country into a shit spiral, but the idea that we need to either cut out competition or difficulties all together is astounding. I’ve never felt that way. I may be a spoiled little dick or not, but I’m working two jobs that take up a good deal of time in the hopes of getting the work I want. And it may not be completely the work of this movie, but it helped. My parents taught me the same ideals, and this art helped cement the idea. In this movie, Jack Skellington tries to take over Christmas because he is attracted to it in a momentary sense of malaise over his Halloween fiefdom boring him. He thinks because he handles this holiday with ease he can easily take over the snowy holiday is quite arrogant. He gets quickly rebuked by the rest of the world, showing his ideas for the holiday is just a joke. Realizing he has limits, he saves Christmas Day and returns to Halloween happy with the knowledge that he is home. Sound familiar? How many kids go off to college to seek out degrees in nonsense fields, unrealistic goals in mind? Someone can read Chaucer in High School and think they should be a literary scholar or they saw Doctor Zhivago at a young age and think Russian History is for them. Or the basic white girl field of psychology that leads to nothing. Countless kids go off and waste all this time and get bitter that the world didn’t hand them a life of leisure. Just because you get hyped on something doesn’t mean your automatically the king of it. I want to be a writer. Went to school to do so. Like most writers, I embody the walking paradox of thinking I suck but that everyone should see my work. Yet I don’t blame anyone else that I’m not a living legend at the age of 26. I’m still finding my place in the world, maybe even having found it recently. But just because I loved NYPD Blue as a kid and fought bullies in school doesn’t mean I should be a captain in the police Internal Affairs bureau.
Some may say the idea at the heart of this movie isn’t healthy. In the world of constant thinkpieces, I’m sure it’s out their somewhere. They may think that shutting kids down and not letting them think for the sky is a bad thing. But that isn’t what this movie is saying. One just has to look at the arc of Sally. She is a Frankenstein like creation, held as a prisoner to the wheel chair bound professor who made her. Instead of allowing herself to be ok with the idea of solitary servitude, she rebels and aims for freedom. The movie rewards her. She doesn’t aim for some ridiculous goal, but the very simple and basic idea of freedom. Finding someone to love her for who she is in the place she loves, she wins. More so than Jack, who just becomes happy with his status quo. Sally wins and Jack grows. If only more kids were taught this lesson, they would be a little happier and wouldn’t overreach. That’s a decent enough idea, right?
All of the ideas in this movie have been completely trampled upon by Burton. Burton is, at heart, an idiosyncratic independent filmmaker at heart who has been completely eaten up and corrupted by the big corporate Hollywood machine. Hollywood in and of itself isn’t the worst thing in my opinion, but it’s about realizing his limits. He’s tried so often to make these big budget movies, usually based off of old properties (books/movies) that just don’t work at all. They come across as hollow examples of his work, self satire that makes him look like a worse filmmaker than he actually is(was?). His early run of movies do not show the man he would become. Heartless, soulless and just unimaginative at his very core. The damage has been done. I truly don’t believe we will see the return of that filmmaker, a man who inspired countless people follow their artistic drives. Even me, someone who doesn’t have too much in common with his aesthetic and thematic interests. The Nightmare Before Christmas is the line in the sand for me, in that he has completely moved past the message of this movie. But also because he didn’t direct the movie, and we can see at this point that he would not have really nailed it if he had complete control of the process. He needed a Henry Sellick to do it, to wrangle the ideas and visuals into something iconic. Cause Corpse Bride and the recent Frankenweenie don’t inspire much faith. And I think that’s why I’ve fallen out so hard with Burton. Having seen and been so inspired by his highs, that seeing his lows have been real dispiriting. And that it came so soon after what could be the best thing he’s had his name attached to is even more upsetting. But I’ll always have the early work and the animated classic that will live with me forever.