Movie Article

Offbeat Oeuvre

Tim Burton's career -- See what we thought of the director's early films like ''Frankenweenie'' and ''Beetlejuice''

Tim Burton's career

Tim Burton started out as one of those spooky, quiet kids in the back of the classroom, a lonely teen who found solace in old Vincent Price movies and ghastly doodles. A Disney fellowship got him through art school, after which he joined the studio's animation factory, grinding out drawings for The Black Cauldron and The Fox and the Hound. Two shorts and four feature films later, it's clear that there's nothing Mickey Mouse about Burton's vision.

Vincent (1982) and Frankenweenie (1984)
Perhaps to make their oddball young employee feel more at home, Disney funded these two wonderful short subjects, Burton's directorial debuts. Both are early workouts on the misfit-in-suburbia theme that bursts free in Edward Scissorhands. The award-winning Vincent is a slight, Edward Gorey-esque animated tale about a young lad who wants to be Vincent Price (Price supplies rhyming narration), while Frankenweenie is a hugely ambitious live-action fantasia about a kid named Victor Frankenstein who brings his beloved dog Sparky back to life: In setting and emotional resonance, it's a warm-up of sorts to Scissorhands. Disney owns both but rarely shows them (Frankenweenie has never been seen publicly), so write a letter and tell them to get these winners onto videotape fast.
Vincent: B+
Frankenweenie: A+

Pee-wee's Big Adventure (1985)
One look at Frankenweenie convinced Paul Reubens that he had found the director for the big-screen debut of his alter ego, Pee-wee Herman. Even if it slacks off toward the end, Burton's first feature is a bulging, candy-colored toy-box of a movie, as giddy as its star and even more inventive. High points are Danny Elfman's score, the appearance of Large Marge, and Pee-wee's bar-top dance to ''Tequila,'' but if you have any doubt about who's the real genius here, look at Big Top Pee-wee, the awful sequel directed by Randal Kleiser. B+

Beetlejuice (1988)
The plot — a deceased young couple hires a free-lance ghoul to rid their house of humans — clanks and bumps and barely makes sense, careening off on demented tangents. But Michael Keaton's title performance is so out there, and Burton's visual grab-bag of ideas so daft, that the movie stands as a loopy triumph. If only for the scene in which a dinner party gets possessed by Harry Belafonte's ''Banana Boat'' song, it's essential '80s comedy. B+

Batman (1989)
Not so much directed as refereed, this megalithic hit is bigger but less manically energetic than Burton's previous two films. Nicholson's Joker and Anton Furst's production design are dazzlers, but for a movie directed by a former cartoonist, Batman is surprisingly unanimated. Still, Michael Keaton's mournful hero provided a surprising grace, and the video version is less murky-looking than what you saw in the theater. B-

Originally posted Dec 14, 1990 Published in issue #44 Dec 14, 1990 Order article reprints
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