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13 Things You Didn’t Know About Tim Burton

Tim Burton
20th Century Fox/Disney/Getty Images

Few Hollywood filmmakers have left as distinctive a mark on modern cinema as Tim Burton. Not only has he created a number of memorable films that have inspired countless other filmmakers over the years, but he’s also developed a signature, quirky style that has made him an iconic director and storyteller in his own right. (Once you see the name “Tim Burton,” you know you’re in for something offbeat.)

Now with the release of his latest stop-motion animated film ‘Frankenweenie,’ the unique mind and career of Tim Burton comes full circle as you’ll see in these strange and interesting facts that are as strange and interesting as its subject. (In keeping with Burton’s freaky persona, we’re giving you 13 facts.)

1. Several of his films are based on drawings he made as a kid

MoMA's Second Annual Film Benefit, Honoring Tim Burton – Inside
Michael Loccisano, Getty Images

Despite having a typical suburban upbringing in his Burbank, California home, young Tim Burton spent a lot of his time crafting very twisted and imaginative drawings. Some of these childhood drawings would serve as the inspiration for some of his most memorable characters and films such as Edward Scissorhands and Jack Skellington from ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.’ (The design of ‘Frankenweenie’ was based on a childhood dog he had.) Burton hasn’t given up his art as an adult, and often has work shown in art galleries and special exhibitions around the world.

2. He directed a twisted ‘Hansel and Gretel’ for Disney

Burton’s talent for drawing and his 1979 short film ‘Stalk of the Celery Monster’ eventually scored him a gig at Disney as an animator on such films as ‘The Fox and the Hound’ and ‘The Black Cauldron.’ Still, it was a job he quickly found tiresome and boring. The studio decided his unique talent could be better served if he was given more room and creativity to work. Burton’s first solo project with Disney was the stop-motion animated short ‘Vincent,’ a tribute to Burton favorite Vincent Price, who also narrated. The short showed up on ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ DVD, where its stark design was perfectly in keeping with Jack Skellington and the rest of the Halloweenland Crew.

Burton followed up ‘Vincent’ with a bizarre, Japanese-inspired take on the classic fairy tale ‘Hansel & Gretel.’ The rarely scene Disney Channel special featured puppetry, stop-motion animation and Burton’s distinctive visual style (the witch looked like a cross between The Penguin and the Sandworms from ‘Beetlejuice’) throughout. The film never made it to video or DVD, but was shown as part of Burton’s retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. A Vincent Price-narrated clip (natch!) can be seen above.

3. Disney refused to release the original ‘Frankenweenie’

Disney also gave Burton the chance to direct another short, ‘Frankenweenie,’ starring Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern, about a boy who loses his beloved dog and brings him back to life just like Frankenstein’s monster. The film was a bit dark for Disney’s tastes and the MPAA agreed, slapping it with a PG rating. Disney intended to show the short before a theatrical release of their classic ‘Pinnochio’ film but they scrapped those plans. (It did screen in the UK before the forgotten dinosaur flick ‘Baby: Secret of the Lost Legened.’)

Burton, of course, got his revenge after leaving Disney by becoming a world famous director and getting Disney to release a feature length animated version of his original vision. He would also reteam with Duvall on a 1986 episode of her series ‘Faerie Tale Theatre.’ Burton adapted ‘Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp’ which featured such stars as Leonard Nimoy and James Earl Jones.

4. He wanted Sammy Davis Jr. to star in ‘Beetlejuice’

beetlejuice sammy davis jr
Hulton Archives/Getty Images/Warner Bros.

Following his stint at Disney, Burton’s short films captured the attention of many major studios and producers. Actor Paul Reubens was looking for someone to direct a film based on his popular Pee-Wee Herman character when he saw ‘Frankenweenie,’ and he thought Burton would be perfect to helm ‘Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.’ That surprise hit led Burton to direct the afterlife comedy ‘Beetlejuice’ as he was trying to get a big screen version of ‘Batman’ off the ground, only to have it stuck in the dreaded “development hell” with Warner Bros.

Burton originally suggested that original Rat Pack member Sammy Davis Jr. take on the evil title role, a decision he relented after David Geffin suggested Michael Keaton instead. Burton has something of an affinity for the song and dance man, and told the Wall Street Journal that he purchased a wax figure of the late singer to keep in his home. He kept it on his couch for awhile as he rearranged his living room and it scared one of his kids’ friends who told his parents they had “a dead black man on our sofa.”

5. Jack Skellington makes a cameo in ‘Beetlejuice’ and other Burton films

The world of ‘Beetlejuice’ wasn’t entirely Burton’s creation since the story and characters originally came from the script written by Michael McDowell and Larry Wilson. Of course, it seems Burton couldn’t resist putting some of his own touches to the look and feel of the movie that was already perfect for his unique style. He also helped design the look of the characters including the crazed carnival costume that Keaton’s character wears towards the end of the movie. The top of his carousel hat features a small skull on top that later went on to become Jack Skellington in ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas.’ Versions of Jack can also be spotted in cameos in ‘James and Giant Peach,’ ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ ‘Coraline, ‘Vincent’ and ‘Sleepy Hollow.’

6. A lot of famous names were attached to ‘Edward Scissorhands’ before Johnny Depp

The insane success of Burton’s big screen ‘Batman’ gave him the kind of artistic freedom that most aspiring directors can only dream about. He once again turned to one of his childhood creations for inspiration for the critically acclaimed ‘Edward Scissorhands’ as his next project.

The casting project was a “who’s who” of Hollywood royalty. 20th Century Fox really wanted Burton to cast Tom Cruise in the title role but a deal never materialized. Tom Hanks was offered the part but he turned it down to make the flop ‘Bonfire of the Vanities.’ Michael Jackson reportedly even wanted to tackle the role. Eventually, Burton cast Depp in the lead role, the start of a movie partnership that lasts to this day.

7. He chose to make ‘Mars Attacks!,’ a movie based on a series of violent trading cards, over another series of violent trading cards

The idea for Burton’s manic alien invasion comedy came from a series of infamous and controversial Topps trading cards called ‘Mars Attacks!’, a series that turned 50-years-old this year and depicts the invasion of Earth by beings from Mars in a very violent and bloody fashion. The movie’s writer Jonathan Gems found them in a junk shop along with another set of equally violent trading cards called ‘Dinosaurs Attack!’ featuring  prehistoric creatures wreaking havoc in American suburbia in an equally bloody fasion. Burton thought the ‘Dinosaurs Attack!’ cards would make for a fun movie but he opted for the ‘Mars Attacks!’ cards instead because he worried audiences might confuse it with ‘Jurassic Park.’ However, he had Warner Bros. option the rights to both trading card sets, so there’s still a chance we’ll see a ‘Dinosaurs Attack’ movie someday.

8. He wanted a different ending for his ‘Planet of the Apes’ movie

Burton’s 2001 revival of the classic Charlton Heston sci-fi epic needed to have the same kind of twist ending that made the original such an iconic film. One of the ideas that Burton was rather keen on was to have Mark Wahlberg’s astronaut return to what he thought was the present by crash landing in Yankee Stadium during a baseball game. However, when the players are revealed to the camera, the audience learns they are apes! Instead, we got the confusing ending that Burton recently admitted to the NY Times that even he doesn’t understand.

9. He has a fear of chimpanzees

It might seem strange for Burton to be directing a movie about violent chimpanzees when he has a fear of them. However, he used that fear to his advantage to make Tim Roth’s evil character one of the fiercest in the film. He said in an interview about his movie that he chose a chimpanzee to lead the apes because “You don’t know whether chimps are going to kill you or kiss you. They’re very open on some levels and much more evil in a certain way.”

10. He and his partner Helena Bonham Carter live in separate apartments

Dark Shadows - UK Premiere - Outside Arrivals tim burton helena bonham carter
Ian Gavan, Getty Images

Burton and Helena Bonham Carter became an item after meeting on the set of ‘Planet of the Apes.’ Technically, they aren’t legally married but they live together and have two children. However, they live together in separate apartments. She said in an interview that they own adjoining homes in North London that allow them to live together but in separate spaces. The couple found it difficult to live together because Burton snores in his sleep and doesn’t want to get surgery to fix it and she is very bossy. Bonham Carter described the arrangement as chosen intimacy because “you never have to compromise emotionally or feel invaded.”

11. He designed a balloon for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade

Burton has had the honor of doing a lot of amazing things in his lifetime but perhaps his strangest, even for Burton, was when the organizers of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade asked him to design his own balloon for the festivities. Back in 2011, he turned to his trusty sketchpad and cooked up a Frankenstein-esque character called “B. Boy.” He even created a backstory for it about how he was created from old balloons used by children at a London hospital and forced to live in the basement where he obsessed over the French film ‘The Red Balloon’ and dreamed of one day being able to fly. We’re sure someone is already working on a script for B. Boy as we speak.

12. He acted in films like ‘Singles’ and ‘Hoffa’

Burton’s on-camera roles are pretty rare, but when he does pop up, he cuts a memorable presence. One of Burton’s cameos came in Cameron Crowe’s romantic drama ‘Singles,’ where Burton played a video dating service filmmaker who is described as “the next Martin Scorsese.” He also appeared as a dead body in ‘Hoffa’ (see clip above) and was outed as an alien in ‘Men in Black 3.’

13. He helped create three animated series

http://youtu.be/3U_hqEkk674

In addition to his stop-motion film work, Burton has dipped into television and internet animation on occasion. Burton contributed character designs to ‘Family Dog,’ an episode of the anthology series ‘Amazing Stories’ that was directed by future Pixar genius Brad Bird. The episode was a huge hit, bringing high quality animation and voice acting to television before ‘The Simpsons’ changed the landscape. The special went on to spawn its own short-lived CBS primetime series helmed by Burton and Steven Spielberg (Bird had moved on to ‘The Simpsons’). And, of course, there was also the Saturday morning cartoon version of ‘Beetlejuice,’ which Burton developed and featured a new theme by Danny Elfman. Though it’s still anyone’s guess why Lydia and Beetlejuice were suddenly friends, the show developed a cult following.

On the Web front, Burton created the flash animated series ‘The World of Stainboy,’ based on a character in his book ‘The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories.’ Burton brought the character back in 2010 for a story published via Twitter.

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