Director Tim Burton’s style of filmmaking began to change in a not so wonderful way in the new millennium. His work became much more adaptation and remake based, rather than producing original ideas and scripts. Stylistically he fell into a major rut, reusing the same aesthetics over and over again, which felt much more bland now that we had been consuming them for a decade already. However, he did have films that rose above the repetition of his tropes.
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
Starring Johnny Depp, Freddie Highmore, Helena Bonham Carter
This remake had been in production limbo for around a decade. At one point, Marilyn Manson had been attached for the Wonka. Now that would have been an interesting pic. The studio decided on Burton, who brought along his old collaborator Depp and new wife Helena Bonham Carter. Despite earlier shakiness with the Planet of the Apes remake, I was still fairly confident in Burton. Big Fish had been a huge departure from his typical style of filmmaking. However, upon seeing this picture I found that the visual flourishes that had once captivated me caused me to literally fall asleep. The first time I saw this film, it was the middle of the day and I actually fell asleep in my chair, something that never happens to me when I am watching a film. Afterwards, I realized that Burton seemed to using his aesthetics as a crutch, providing us no real meat to the film. Oh yes, there was some half-assed attempt at giving Wonka an origin story (such a terrible idea), but if you had seen the first film there was nothing here that added to it except updated CG graphics.
The Corpse Bride (2005)
Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Tracey Ullman, Albert Finney, Christopher Lee
The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of the most beautiful and perfectly made stop-motion films in history. Its an art style of animation that is rarely attempted, compared to its CG brethern, but when done right it stands above all else (Also remember, Burton only produced and did design work for that film, not direct). I was very excited to see Burton returning to that method of filmmaking and interested to see the story he told this time. For the second time in a year I was utterly bored. The film’s look was basically Victorian Nightmare Before Xmas, the shape of characters and the way ghosts were designed. I don’t remember much of the plot of this film, because I found my mind wandering and uninterested. It’s definitely a beautiful film. Let it never be said Burton doesn’t know how to fill a frame. However, like with Charlie, it lacked substance underneath the surface. The humor and characters were both ultimately forgettable.
Sweeney Todd (2007)
Starring Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Jeremy Irons, Sacha Beren Cohen
This was a semi-return to form for Burton. The key this time wasn’t his aesthetics (they were as bland and repetitive as usual), but the writing of Stephen Sondheim that caused this picture to rise above the rut. Because this film was an operatic tragedy, the bleak landscapes of Burton felt perfectly at home. London came across the dirty, grime-covered hellhole Sondheim originally tried to get across on stage. The casting for the film was wonderful, though Depp wouldn’t have been my first choice for the lead. He does a good job, but its the supporters who really carry the film here. For me, this was the single true highlight of Burton’s in the 2000s. It kept my interesting throughout every frame and has a truly devastating and heartbreaking finale. It’s my hope that Burton is able to reproduce this sort of emotional resonance in his coming work.