Happy 53rd Birthday, Tim Burton! Who Is Your Favorite Tim Burton Character?

timburton-300.jpgOn this day, 53 years ago, Timothy Walter Burton was born in Burbank, California to parents Bill and Jean. Over the course of the next five decades, the boy from Burbank would go on to direct fifteen feature films in his signature dark, quirky style, seven of which featured his long-time collaborator Johnny Depp. To celebrate Burton's birthday, let's look back at the director's most wonderfully eccentric characters before choosing a favorite.

There are so many eligibly amazing characters to choose from that it's difficult to pick a forerunner. Here are some of the best ladies and gentleman imagined (or in some cases, re-imagined) by the ghoulish director:

· Pee-wee Herman, Pee-wee's Big Adventure (Paul Reubens)

· Betelgeuse, Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton)

· The Joker, Batman (Jack Nicholson)

· Edward Scissorhands, Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp)

· Catwoman, Batman Returns (Michelle Pfeiffer)

· Jack Skellington, The Nightmare Before Christmas (voiced by Chris Sarandon)

· Ed Wood, Ed Wood (Johnny Depp)

· Ichabod Crane, Sleepy Hollow (Johnny Depp)

· Edward Bloom, Big Fish (Ewan McGregor)

· Willy Wonka, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Johnny Depp)

· Victor, Corpse Bride (voiced by Johnny Depp)

· Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (Helena Bonham Carter)

· Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland (Johnny Depp)

To further jog your memory, here's a montage of Burton's films (up until 2005) that features his many lovable personalities. After viewing, go ahead and name your favorite in the comment section below.


  • J K says:

    My favorite Tim Burton character is the one that's all quirky and pale and has the crazy hair... you know the one I'm talking about...? Oh. Right.

  • JK says:

    So many! Love Mr. Burton Big Fish was a flop but I liked it as well as many others not listed in your big list. I think a Burton marathon will be in the works this even at my home..

  • J K says:

    I second Big Fish, as it is an actual film and not just an exercise in vanity and indulgent production design.
    And I've hardly met a soul who won't cop to Edward Scissorhand's merits.
    I personally found Burton's frazzled, neurotic, obviously damaged versions of Batman and Catwoman far more truthful than the "gritty, realistic" Nolanized depiction which tries to portray a traumatized billionaire dressing up at night as a violent leather fetish bat as being anything other than flat out disturbed.
    But, early 21st century audiences apparently want to see people living their fictions without friction, or so the production entities suppose. "Take me seriously," they say. "I only live for my fantasy life, my precious cosplay, so I can't bear you exposing it as a degraded condition."
    (If anything, I hope someone will have the courage to make Batman what he should be, an eccentric detective at whom police only stop snickering because he solves cases brilliantly, and who scares criminals because he is obviously an insane fantasist with resources, and not because-- cue Bale-growl-- "he's a symbol.")
    I always loved that scene where Keaton as Wayne has left the beautiful reporter in the bed so that he can go hang upside down for his real erotic treat-- pathological indulgence in his self-as-become-Bat fantasy trumping the easy eros of the Vale. Ridiculous and "unrealistic?" Sure. Truthful? Absolutely. And that, to me, is when Burton shines-- when his "trying too hard" aesthetic is depicting characters equally desperate to make their delusions real, but failing to do so without consequence.
    Batman is seductive to Vale because of his mystery. Batman seduces Vale in order to keep his mystery, his hidden night-life, intact. She's his beard, you understand? He cares more about his hobby than his "real" life, which is really just a series of misdirections. So, when Catwoman, a kind of de-funded counterpart arrives in her lurid, hand-stitched costume, he has all kinds of interest. This is what he would look like without money and without his supposed "mission for justice" as an excuse for his indulgences. The montage of Bruce Wayne getting industrially assembled into Batman as Selina Kyle struggles in the backseat of her beat up car to get dressed. Beautiful. Just beautiful. And so sad and pathetic. So damaged.
    And not just Depp in a series of silly hats.
    I loved Burton's films when I was fourteen. But once I began to understand that films could be more than simply undeniable representatives of the director's personal aesthetic, I started to see his ouvre as lacking in something. They began to just come across the same way crazily-styled multicolored hair on a first year art student reads-- as desperately wanting to be seen as a "creative type," but without the restraint and editorial courage that makes a vital artist.
    They began to seem like advertisements for Tim Burton, wherein the piece serves as a promotion for the aesthetic, rather than the aesthetic serving to communicate the truth of the piece.
    After Sleepy Hollow, they started to seem, well, sleepy and hollow, to me.
    But I get why a crowd of self-obsessed, erotically repressed "would-be-tragic" loners and their hangers-on would kill to defend the man and his work.
    All of his best films are revelations of the sadness and futility of a poser's pose.
    And his work has suffered as a result of the reflecting glare from that very kind of acolyte. It's the same thing that's been slowly killing Tori Amos's music for years.
    As for your theft of my moniker sans a space. That's a little weird. I don't much like it. Why try to put words in my mouth? Is that an odd kind of threat? To pose as a poster?
    But the slavish devotion of Burton's cult certainly doesn't surprise me.
    My apologies to the excellent Movieline staff for taking up an obnoxious amount of space in their comments sections. I almost never take part in "online life," since it seems to me an oxymoron, but I have decided to do so here on many occasions because of the excellence of the writing and my perception that Movieline readers are highly discerning and intelligent.
    I will endeavor to curtail my indulgences.
    P. S.
    I would love for Tim Burton to simply make a production of Hamlet. He can use Jack Skellington's head in the famous skull scene, and the whole thing can be stop-motion for all I care.
    But let's just be honest and show an obsessed male with feminine mystery watched by a narcissistic echo of a gal to whom he will only pay attention when she becomes just as dead as his morbid pursuits.
    Happy Birthday to a man who has succeeded in leaving an undeniable signature on the history of commercial cinema and has made his aesthetic so well known that "Tim Burtonesque" will immediately evoke the necessary tone in any conversation about a piece of media.
    I look forward to seeing a definitive statement that's more than just an evocation of his name.

  • stolidog says:

    I need a pig.
    you can't skip the queen of hearts.

  • Jen Yamato says:

    Take as much space as you need. 🙂

  • Titte Twister says:

    Your breakdown of his characters is spot on. And sadly so's your critique. And yeah the whole morbidly obsessed guy followed by a girl morbidly obsessed with his unavailability does seem like a queen/fag-hag relationship sometimes. That's why Sweeny Todd worked so well in a "Burtonesque" world. I am looking forward to Frankenweenie 2012.

  • Martini Shark says:

    I enjoyed when he played the loopy guy on the red carpet with a wackadoo wife and they both compete to have to goofiest hairdoo! I've seen all the sequels and loved each one!

  • J K says:

    You're kind 🙂
    Ok. I lied. Here's the indulgent rest:
    Edward just wants to be a real boy, and he literally can't touch the girl without mutilating her unless his artificial form becomes complete. Yet it doesn't. So, Winona moves on to someone who can give her babies. While he makes it "snow" from his spooky retreat with his "hands" put to the only task to which they're well-suited: creating the artificial appearance of things. A fake man making fake shapes out in the night. Immortal but un-living. Pathetic. Truthful.
    Ed Wood wants to be a real film director, but can't. And his thwarted delusional attempt has that unmistakable beauty of failure. And makes him oddly immortal. For being awful at his chosen pose.
    Betelgeuse helps the couple who just wanted to hold on to their domestic dream-life even in death (a doomed pursuit if their ever were one,) but, by his obsessions, demonstrates how human the two of them still are, and how monstrous he has become. I like that the ridiculous "quirky" sophisticated remodeling of the house by Catherine O'Hara comes across as desperately fake and inauthentic. (Really, I feel like Burton's films have become that remodeled house.)
    I just think there was a shift at some point from a gaze of knowing empathy towards the tragedy of the obsessed, deluded characters into simply celebrating the crazy, obsessive type as better and more noble than "normals."
    It seems like more of a regression than a growth-- the thing that happens to an artist who begins to complacently believe in his own special power and loses the humility necessary for digging deep beneath his own ego.
    But things like Depp's monstrously unlikeable Wonka with the deep malevolence inherent in his total indulgence in his fantasy retreat… show seeds of insight, still. (The rest of that one and the Deep Roy stuff was just grating in the worst "QUIRKY" way, though. So frustrating.) And Gene Wilder's mania, beyond simply being iconic, captured Dahl's maleficence better.
    I thought Alice In Wonderland with it's odd "girl power" message was just the worst. Don't be the good girl or the bad girl. Just be… a boy, I think, was the message? That was Jung's thing, right? That girl's who follow their father become interesting, but locked out of their womanhood somehow. But so be it. Forget real life, let's all just play pirates!
    Endorsements of anxious, obsessive individualism, I guess, is what they have become. Rather than portraits of the beauty and tragedy of the neurotic. They seem to have lost their ambivalence, and thus, their power.
    Maybe it isn't Tim that's changed. Maybe it's the entire culture having moved a step towards individuated fantasy indulgence as a way of life.
    I just don't think there's vitality in trying to promote a quirky, alternative, "follow your lifestyle obsessions" way of life to a narcissistic culture that is, by and large, doing just that.
    I would love to see Burton mount a Michael Jackson bio-pic. Complete with Danny Elfman orchestrations of the hits. In black and white, emphasizing the slow leak of color from Michael's increasingly artificial form.
    (It would be like a reverse Edward Scissorhands. Born a real boy in a real place and never ceasing until he has made of himself a monstrous construct surrounded by artifice.)
    To once again illustrate the tragic sadness of what living in your own obsessive fantasy world does to a human soul.
    Hamlet and MJ. There's still time.
    ...or just give me a tiny budget and I'll make 'em 🙂
    (Now see. That's what tragic delusion sounds like.)

  • Mentorn says:

    Michael certainly has the requisite daddy issues to be a Burton subject.

  • KD says:

    do I have to pick just one - Not
    #1Jack Skellington (I like stop motion animation)
    #2Ichabod Crane this kills two birds with one stone, best actor &character
    loved big fish as well
    Happy B-day Mr. Burton

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