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PopEntertainment.com > Oscar Nominees > Feature Interviews - Directors > Feature Interviews A to E > Tim Burton

TIM BURTON

MARRIES THE DEAD

by Brad Balfour

Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com.   All rights reserved. Posted: September 25, 2005.

Since director Tim Burton emphasizes eccentricity in everything he does from Batman to Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, it's no wonder that he found a special niche in stop motion animation. Even though the 48 year-old Californian seems to be working in a children-oriented medium he doesn't leave the bizarre behind so it was inevitable that his next story, The Corpse Bride not only explores the land of the dead, he makes it more appealing than this world. Of course, it didn't hurt that he used his usual ensemble--folks like Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp and Danny Elfman--to make this a remarkable film.

Are you optimistic that the afterlife is as colorful as you painted it in this movie?

I have no idea what happens, but I do respond to other cultures that treat life with a much more positive approach. I think this other form, kind of teaches, especially as a child, to almost be afraid of everything and feel like something bad is going to happen. As to where that other way, it just seems like a much more spiritual and positive approach. That's as far as I go, because I really have no idea what will happen.

What's the appeal of the dead and undead to you?

Dealing with the undead comes from growing up in Burbank, I think. It's sort of a suburban Night of the Living Dead during the day. I always liked monster movies, and I'm always fascinated by, again growing up in a culture where death is looked upon as sort of a dark subject and then living so close to Mexico where you see the Day of the Dead skeletons and it's all humor, music and dancing and sort of a celebration of life, in a way, and that always felt more like a positive approach to things. So I always responded to that, more than just this sort of dark, unspoken cloud in the environment I grew up in.

Were your corpse characters based on the Mexican Day of the Dead figurines?

I used to have those figurines and they'd always have these nice scenes with them in clothes. There was a lot of humor and fun involved with those characters and that's what I felt was really inspiring to me.

Do you think this movie is appropriate for children? Will they enjoy it or maybe it will be too scary for them?

Well, I've always had problems with that.  I remember that people were saying that about Nightmare and tiny, tiny little kids came up and said they loved the movie. I think it's more of an adult problem then it is a kid problem. I find Corpse Bride is even softer in a certain way. It's basically an emotional love story with humor, and any kind of fairy tale or fable, there are elements that are maybe slightly unsettling, but that's part of the history of those kinds of stories.


Did you have problems with the rating?

No, PG, which I think was appropriate, because as I said, the story is quite emotional and I personally don't find it dark at all, in the same way as Nightmare. In fact I think it's almost less dark in a certain way. I also find that adults forget that kids are their own best censors. Some kids like that kind of stuff and some kids don't, and they're usually the best ones to judge it. It's when adults are going "Oh, you can't see this, can't see that" that it creates this climate of fear, and makes children more afraid.  I have a child that's under two years old, and he's watched When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth and Viva Las Vegas, which isn't a horror movie, but some people may find it scary. It's about how you present things and if he got scared, he'd run away.

Is there anything that would scare your son?

Only his parents….at the moment…truthfully [laughs]. I don't know why. We don't try to scare him, but he just looks up at us like "who are you?"  I don't know if it's because of the way we look or the way we act.  But no, it's interesting to watch. I'm not going to start showing him hardcore porn or anything, but I find it's a fascinating subject and I was talking to somebody, who's actually writing a book on it. You go into a shop and it's like here's the Teletubbies, here's the Wiggles, and it's this very limited kind of--which some might say is scarier than most horror movies. If you show them other things and don't present it like "Ohhhhhhh, it's a bad thing." It might be amazing what they just accept.

What animated cartoons that you watched as a kid influenced you to make two animated films?

It immediately had to do with [master animator] Ray Harryhausen. He was the guy. If I saw his name [on a movie], no actor meant anything but his name certainly meant something, and that's where my love of this type of animation came from--because you could see an artist at work. His monsters had more personality than most of the actors in the movies. Even the monster was just a monster; the death scene was always just so beautiful and tragic. The final little twist of the tail or the one final breath or whatever. He just brought such passion into the work, so to me, he was the guy who not only inspired me, but he inspires almost any animator. In fact, several months ago, Johnny and Helena and I went to his house in London and met him for the first time and he was just such an amazing man and so generous with his time and enthusiasm. He went to the set of Corpse Bride and production sort of ground to a halt that day because everyone was [makes bowing motions]. He truly has inspired not just stop-motion animators, but any animator.

Besides Harryhausen, were there any other pop culture references that influenced your recent movies like comic books?

Those kinds of things that you grow up watching like the Rankin and Bass "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", they stay with you.  They just kind of form what you like to do. I wasn't a big comic book fan, really.  I don't know if I was dyslexic, but I always had trouble knowing which box to read first. I kept reading the wrong box and thought this is a comic book that doesn't make any sense. Do I read the one up here or the one down here?  I couldn't quite deal with it.

What led you to filmmaking?

I always liked to draw as probably every kid does and make Super 8 movies like a lot of kids did, and I never had the real goal to do that until in school. I was such a bad student, and I remember having to do a report where you had to read a book and write a 50 page essay on it, so I made a little Super 8 film on Houdini, a book that I had to read about. I remember not reading the book, not having to write and getting an A+ on the project and I thought "Oh, this might be a good living to try to do." So I always liked making things and then I got into animation, and also luck comes into it as well.

And now you have done literary classics, like Sleepy Hollow and of course, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Some people were like, "Oh you're remaking the movie," but with Charlie, none of us ever felt we were remaking the movie. We felt we were trying to make the book. The screenwriter never looked at the [first] movie. For that one we didn't feel pressured to try and top the original.

Was your relationship with Johnny much different on Corpse Bride?

It was weird because we were doing both at the same time, he was Willy Wonka by day and Victor by night so it might have been a little schizophrenic for him. It's the first animated movie he's done, and he's always in for a challenge. He's kind of up for anything.

Johnny has said that he scrambled Victor together in about fifteen minutes. Was it that instantaneous?

Oh yeah. We were shooting Charlie one day and it was like, “Hey, let's do some recording tonight.” And as we were walking over he was like, “Shit, who is this character, what is he doing…I have no idea…” Great thing is, he likes to work spontaneously too and, really, in that one session he got it. I think he might have been a bit worried to begin with but I think he likes that.

Helena Bonham Carter had to audition for the film and then had to wait painfully for two weeks for your answer. Is that true?

No, she's an actress, so she's making it more dramatic [laughter]. It was probably a slight bit of torture, but it's a two-way street. It wasn't as dramatic as that. I think maybe because I'm with her, I probably was a little harder on her than I would be with somebody [else].  Nobody else did have to audition, that's true [laughter]. Long before I met her, she had done many movies.  She's very secure with herself and what s
he's done. There's never really been any problems…yet. No, seriously, she was fine.

Would you ever dare not to cast
Helena in one of your films?

Of course. I wouldn't cast her just to cast her in the same way that I wouldn't cast Johnny or anybody that I love working with just to have them in the movie. You always want it to be the right thing and the right role.  I think she and most of the people I work with understand that.

Do you look for outcast qualities in the actors that you use?

Yeah. Of course. When I first met Johnny on Edward Scissorhands, he was sort of looked upon as this handsome leading man, but I don't think in his heart he felt that way and that's why he wanted to do it because he understood that being perceived as one thing and being something else.

Victor is sort of an outcast--so are the Bride and Victoria.

Yeah, the love triangle in Corpse Bride--they all are outcasts in their own way and that's the beauty of the story to me. That's what gave it its poignancy to me; it's bittersweet with a sort of hopeful and sad quality altogether. The juxtaposition of who is going to be with who and what's going to end up happening was a very tricky balance to get, but something that was again crucial and important to who he was.

Your movies have always been about outsiders. Now that you have a happy relationship, a kid and so on, is it hard to still feel like an outsider?

Well things aren't always happy [laughing]. No, you are very affected by your early life and if you ever had that feeling like an outsider, or that lonely feeling, it doesn't leave you. You can be happy successful, whatever, but that feeling still stays inside you. You always will have that.

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Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: September 25, 2005.