From ‘Beetlejuice’ to ‘Wednesday’, how Tim Burton became a shadow of himself

The director returns with a series adapted from The Addams Family. The opportunity to look back on the last years of his career, marked by less and less good films, and an increasingly important disappointment from his fans.

“We missed him, he’s here.” It is with these words that Thierry Frémaux greeted Tim Burton last October when he came to Lyon to receive the Lumière prize. A prestigious award for a director loved by all, whose films have rocked several generations. Films, however, less and less successful. So much so that, for many of his fans, Tim Burton has become a shadow of himself.

Few years ago, Albert Dupontel portrayed Tim Burton as “a lost poet in Hollywood”. Today he seems more lost than ever, and less and less a poet. Its golden age (Edward Scissorhands, batman the challenge and Ed Wood) is far behind him. “As Joe Dante (Gremlins), he was unable to pass the milestone of the 2000s”, regrets the videographer Meeea. If his films still bring in money, they no longer arouse unanimity. Worse, as soon as they are released, they are already forgotten.

The return of Tim Burton this Wednesday on Netflix with Wednesday, a series of which he is not the creator, and of which he has directed only four episodes, is made through the back door, with a touch of bitterness for his fans. Burton had already refused thirty years ago to transpose The Addams Family in the cinema, “for fear of doing what was obvious”, recalls the journalist Julien Dupuy, co-author of a file on batman challenge in the magazine Rockyrama. “It’s quite ironic and sad that he does that today.”

With its ersatz looksNew Adventures of sabrina, Wednesday does not offer any form of redemption to Tim Burton. The series, on the contrary, reminds us, often painfully, that he got stuck in the early 2000s, between Danny Elfman’s soundtrack which repeats that of his previous films and the generic of the series which recalls that of Spiderman (2002) by Sam Raimi.

“Burton was never a great director”

Although Tim Burton gave up any artistic ambition in Wednesdayvideographer Vesper does not see this as a sign of her decline: “It’s quite common for many directors whose name has been attached to series to only direct a few episodes themselves, for example, like David Fincher with mindhunteror Baz Luhrmann with The Get Down to recite nobody else but them.”

“The sign that his career is at the end of its rope is simply the quality of his last feature films from Sweeney Todd (2007) even if everyone places the cursor a little differently”, continues the specialist. For many, the decline of Tim Burton began in the mid-1990s, after the release of Mars Attacks! (1996).

“It’s a film that I really like, but it doesn’t have much to say. It’s already no longer inhabited”, laments Julien Dupuy. “Since Mars Attacks!he just tries to float by continuing the projects that don’t really matter”, adds Meeea, who sees in sleepy hollow (1999) “his swan song” and in Big Fish (2003) “his last personal film”.

Perhaps Tim Burton, despite his undeniable qualities as a director, is not as brilliant as his fans have believed. “Burton has never been a great director”, recognizes Julien Dupuy. “If a filmmaker is someone who admirably handles cinematographic linguistics, it has never been fatal from this point of view.”

“Now he runs”

Even Tim Burton shares this analysis. His favorite film from his filmography is The strange Christmas of Mr. Jacka work whose story and designs he imagined, but which was directed by another, Henry Selick: “My films, I like them all, even the ugliest ones. There is one that I like a little more than the others, it is The strange Christmas of Mr. Jackbecause it looks exactly like what I wanted to do.”

A revealing joke of the pride of the visionary director, “destabilized” according to Julien Dupuy by “the discovery that others could make of Burton.” “It’s also his biggest goose, so it was obvious that he quotes it,” analyzes Vesper. We can also see the symbol of Tim Burton’s renunciation, broken by his experience on The Planet of the Apes (2001) and its remakes ofAlice (2011) and Dumbo (2019).

“The model of current studios (and this also matters for Netflix) does not correspond too much to directors ‘with vision'”, comments Meeea. “You just have to see what various people say like John McTiernan, Jean Pierre Jeunet, Martin Scorsese [sur l’absence de prise de risque des studios]. So now he’s running.”

“Burton has always had a rather complicated relationship with Disney worthy of a roller coaster of departures and comebacks, failures and successes (Taram and the magic cauldron, Alice, Dumbo)”, explains the videographer Vesper. “He also said he no longer wanted to work with them when he was asked if he was tempted by the realization of a Marvel. He may have become as cynical as he was tired, above all. Chaining the big machines clearly didn’t help.”

“The impression that he was spitting in my face”

Tim Burton was also a victim of his own obsessions. Quickly passing from the margins to the top of Hollywood, the director quickly became aware of what he represented. “His greatest film remains batman challengebecause it’s a film that escapes him,” says Julien Dupuy. “As soon as he makes a film about Ed Wood [un réalisateur de série Z, NDLR]even if it is a masterpiece, there is something that is broken.”

“As soon as there was an acceptance of who he was and what he did, the old him had no reason to exist,” continues the specialist. “Then the worst thing that could happen to him happened: becoming a brand. That was all he built himself against as a kid.” And for his early fans, it was a huge shock. first with Big Fishwhere Burton “celebrates a certain normative life”.

The real snub happened afterwards with his adaptation of Charlie and the chocolate factory (2005). “I had the impression that he was spitting in my face. You can’t make a film like that without being steeped in cynicism. There is a vengeful impulse towards its characters, coupled with a will systematic self-citation”, indignant Julien Dupuy. “Some of his movies are my favorites, but I don’t like what he’s become.”

Wednesday suffers from the same shortcomings by plunging her heroine into a universe as strange as her, laments Meeea: “What’s the point of having a character like Wednesday if you put her in a universe where everyone is like her? , is to see her evolve in a world that is out of step. If everyone is the same, it’s probably not interesting.”

A director who has become a parody of himself

When he prepares The Planet of the ApesTim Burton calls on the great make-up artist Rick Baker, known in particular for his work on the music video for Thriller. Rick Baker declines the offer, stating that he refuses to want to do “Tim Burton-style monkeys”. “It was the first time I heard that and it was terrible because it meant that he had created his own standard”, remembers Julien Dupuy.

His cinema has since become a parody of himself: “He may have ended up locking himself up in his gimmicks”, explains Vesper, “and has not been able to find the ideal balance between keeping his identity and the themes that are dear to him while avoiding copying and pasting the same story, with the same main actor ad nauseam.” “I think that’s now what the studios are asking him to do,” adds Meeea.

For Vesper “his salvation would perhaps come from a more independent and personal project, carried out by surrounding himself differently and taking into account certain criticisms made for several years, vis-à-vis the lack of diversity of his characters for example “. Meeea feels he should quit: “A lot of directors like De Palma went on for nothing. He would have a better place as a producer.”

Paradoxically, it was by becoming a parody of himself that he did not die totally creatively. His films remain “always consistent with his themes and gimmicks mixing fantastic, macabre and freak stories”, remarks Vesper. “Even the presence of Eva Green in three of them (Dark Shadows, Miss Peregrine, Dumbo) makes sense as it fits perfectly into a Burtonian universe.”

On screen, the discomfort of Tim Burton

These films are also exciting to understand the discomfort of Burton and his renunciation vis-à-vis the cinema. In Dumbo (2019), Burton thus identifies with the elephant and confides his despair at being reduced to a fairground beast by the multinational Disney. “Anyway, all of his films are personal,” notes Meeea. “Mars Attacks! for example allowed him to ‘kill’ the elites by leaving two versions of Burton in charge (the young goth and the sweet dreamer).”

big eyes (2014) also talks about his professional schizophrenia, between the personal projects for which he no longer has the strength and the blockbusters on which he intervenes as a technician, analyzes Julien Dupuy: “It’s not a very good film, it’s not is not very handsome, but on the other hand I could not help thinking that he was talking about him through the couple formed by Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. But these metafictional aspects are insufficient to make good films.

In this context, it is difficult to expect anything from Tim Burton. “Afterwards, I can’t help but go there,” agrees Julien Dupuy. “Dark Shadowsfor example, I saw it very late.” Impossible to blame the one who has brought so much to viewers around the world: “It’s already fantastic to have offered so many memorable films in a director’s life “, insists Vesper.

“It must not be easy to tell yourself that the best of your career is behind you, after that he may see it differently!” Adds the videographer. “When a guy touches people like that, the rest is just literature,” concludes Julien Dupuy. “You have to know how to lick your wounds. For me, it’s also a mark of the value of Tim Burton. The fact that it didn’t last only underlines the magic of his early films.”

From ‘Beetlejuice’ to ‘Wednesday’, how Tim Burton became a shadow of himself