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Tim Burton Slams Disney, Talks Batman’s Evolution in Film

ROME, ITALY - OCTOBER 23: Tim Burton attends the Tim Burton Close Encounter red carpet during the 16th Rome Film Fest 2021 on October 23, 2021 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for RFF)

Director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice) was honored at the Lumière Festival in Lyon this week, where he received the Prix Lumière and participated in a master class. Throughout the week, Burton reflected on his career, which he began as an animator at Disney. Since then, Burton has directed some of the biggest films of the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s, including Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), Ed Wood (1994), and Sweeney Todd (2007). Burton also directed a string of live-action hits for Disney, such as Alice in Wonderland (2010) and Dumbo (2019). But Burton indicated that he was done working inside the Disney machine.

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During a press conference at the festival, Burton said “My history is that I started out there. I was hired and fired like several times throughout my career there. The thing about Dumbo, is that’s why I think my days with Disney are done, I realized that I was Dumbo, that I was working in this horrible big circus and I needed to escape. That movie is quite autobiographical at a certain level.” Burton also said he had zero interest in joining a mega-franchise like Star Wars or Marvel, “It’s gotten to be very homogenized, very consolidated. There’s less room for different types of things, … I can only deal with one universe, l can’t deal with a multi-universe.”

Burton also reflected on his own history with superhero franchises, having directed the first two Batman films which starred Michael Keaton. During his masterclass, Burton noted, “When I first did Batman, I’d never heard of the word ‘franchise, … After that, it became something else.” Burton’s Batman films ushered in a dark yet highly stylized take on comic book films, influencing future installments like Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy and Mat Reeves’ grittier and somber The Batman. But while Burton’s influence is still evident in the superhero genre, it also marks a massive departure from what studios and audiences consider “dark”. After all, The Batman features a Riddler modeled after the Zodiac killer. Burton’s Batman featured an extended musical sequence where Jack Nicholson’s Joker dances to Prince. It’s an understatement to say that times have changed.

“It did feel very exciting to be at the beginning of all of it. It’s amazing how much it hasn’t really changed in a sense – the tortured superhero, weird costumes – but for me, at the time it was very exciting. It felt new,” said Burton. “The thing that is funny about it now is, people go ‘What do you think of the new Batman?’ and I start laughing and crying because I go back to a time capsule, where pretty much every day the studios were saying, ‘It’s too dark, it’s too dark’. Now it looks like a lighthearted romp.”

(via Deadline, featured image: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images for RFF)

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Chelsea Steiner
Chelsea was born and raised in New Orleans, which explains her affinity for cheesy grits and Britney Spears. An pop culture journalist since 2012, her work has appeared on Autostraddle, AfterEllen, and more. Her beats include queer popular culture, film, television, republican clownery, and the unwavering belief that 'The Long Kiss Goodnight' is the greatest movie ever made. She currently resides in sunny Los Angeles, with her husband, 2 sons, and one poorly behaved rescue dog. She is a former roller derby girl and a black belt in Judo, so she is not to be trifled with. She loves the word “Jewess” and wishes more people used it to describe her.

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