For years, Tim Burton has been an acknowledged creative force in Hollywood in a league all his own. His unique visions have even given birth to the phrase, “Burton-esque;” a term that instantly conjures up visions of sights that can only come from the mind of Burton; his films truly have to been seen to be believed. The roots of his creative genius lie in the obvious: the work of stop-motion animation pioneer Ray Harryhausen and the Hammer horror films starring such cinematic legends as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee, to schlock-y matinee escapades featuring Vincent Price, and the not so obvious: from the early works of Walt Disney to the films of cinematic auteur Federico Fellini. Unlike some filmmakers who merely to steal from the greats, Burton uses his inspirations more as a canvas onto which he creates his incredible sights for all to behold.
The Disney influence on Burton may not be overt at first glance, but it is evident when looking at the specific qualities that drew Burton to those films as a child, and this interest in the Disney films certainly played a part in his attending Cal Arts and later working as an animator for the Disney animation department, however brief it may have been. The early Disney films, such as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” were fantasy films geared towards both children and adult audiences alike. They blended the terrifyingly dark with the whimsical and cheerful in a way that had not been done before. Looking at Burton’s films, such as “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure” or “Edward Scissorhands,” it’s clear that he was aiming for this same broad audience to tell his stories to as well. Much like Walt Disney, Burton respects both the adult and child audience that goes to his pictures by telling a story that can be enjoyed by anyone of any age.
“Vincent Price, Edgar Allen Poe, those monster movies, those spoke to me.” (Tim Burton, Burton on Burton) Burton’s love affair with Vincent Price is no secret. As a child growing up In Burbank California, there was something undeniably fascinating about this playfully creepy actor that Burton latched onto during his adolescence (and you know that lisp of his didn’t hurt Price’s creep-out factor in Burton’s view). You can see this trait in many of Burton’s characters (and probably in Burton himself): from the cheerfully mischievous Pee-wee Herman to Edward Bloom, a man who delighted in spinning elaborate yarns about his younger years, in Burton’s latest and greatest: “Big Fish.” Clearly, the work of animator Ray Harryhausen had a huge influence on Burton as a filmmaker, and not just with films like “Vincent” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Much like the presence of Vincent Price, the sights of skeletons coming to life and Pegasus taking flight were unlike anything Burton had experienced in his suburban hometown. With scenes in films like, “Sleepy Hollow,” and “Beetlejuice” Burton has given his audiences the same movie-going thrills he must have experienced as a youth as well as pay homage to the fantasy epics and Hammer horror films he grew up on.
It’s difficult to say which filmmakers have personally inspired Burton over the years simply by looking at his films. Yes, there are scenes in Burton’s films that scream of his love for the films of Italian master Federico Fellini (most evidently in the final moments of “Big Fish”); but Burton seems to have been influenced more by entire genres of films than specific filmmakers. Take his love of the Hammer horror films; specific filmmakers from that studio are rarely cited by Burton, it’s more about the feelings and images that the term “Hammer horror” conjures up in the minds of people who love those films and even those who have never seen one. Burton’s name on a film almost lends it the same feeling; you know walking into a Burton film that you’re in for something special.
Walt Disney and Vincent Price may seem like strange bedfellows to cite as influences, but for a creative visionary like Tim Burton, such an odd pairing is almost expected. It’s the way Burton combines all the elements that touched him over the years and adds his own unique personal touch to those sights that makes his films so breathtaking to behold; he gives us something old, something familiar, and something completely unexpected.
– Joe Cortez, 2004