15. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
Based on the series of popular young adult novels by Ransom Riggs, it's not hard to see why Tim Burton would be drawn to a story about strange kids with superpowers who live in a gothic mansion with a mysterious woman who can turn into a falcon. The great hook of the books was the use of vintage photographs collected by the author, giving the story a unique visual language that seemed tailor made for the big screen. While Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children certainly gives Burton a large canvas to indulge his pet favorites, and it’s always a delight to see Eva Green embrace her most witchy qualities as an actress, the film is still one of his weaker efforts.
Burton has oft been accused of prizing style over substance, caring more about production design than plotting. That’s not always a bad thing, especially when you do aesthetics as well as he does. However, with Miss Peregrine, the plotting is so unnecessarily dense and the world-building deeply convoluted, that you find yourself unable to overlook how much Burton cannot be bothered to deal with such things. The overstuffed story, combined with some truly inexplicable editing choices, hampers Burton’s abilities to just make a good old fashioned Tim Burton movie, which is all we truly want from him.
Grading any sort of live-action remake of a Disney classic can prove tricky since the formula dictates a level of specificity and brand synergy that most run-of-the-mill remakes don't. When Tim Burton made Alice in Wonderland, that formula had not been perfected, so he got to deviate from the source material more than he probably would have only a few years later (although that may have been an improvement given how terrible that film turned out to be). With Dumbo, he has to adhere to those norms, but how do you turn a child's fable that's barely an hour long into an epic movie twice that length? You make some of the more baffling creative decisions seen in a Tim Burton film.
Dumbo is not necessarily a bad film. Indeed, it's understandable why so many critics have declared this to be a high point in Burton's recent filmography. However, it's hampered by that need to be a Disney live-action remake, even when it's creatively impossible to be so. So, while there are moments that soar, such as those flying scenes, and actors giving it their all, like a gloriously camp sinister Michael Keaton, the changes made for adaptation prove more confusing than anything else. What may be Disney's simplest tale has become an overstuffed blockbuster with war veterans, dead mothers, and a subplot about the evils of selling out to a major corporation (the latter part proves especially hilarious given Disney's recent acquisition of 20th Century Fox and the obvious parallels created). It's not without its charms, and the final act has some great action bears, but Dumbo feels like something that should have returned back to basics.
13. Corpse Bride
As noted on every movie trivia website, Tim Burton didn’t actually direct the animated film most closely associated with him, The Nightmare Before Christmas. Despite his name being all over the posters and the visuals being so recognizably Burtonesque, the work of direction fell to stop-motion animation legend Henry Selick. Audiences wouldn’t actually get an animated Tim Burton movie until 2005 when Corpse Bride came out, the same year as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. However, the results, while more technically polished, lacked the spark of The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Wearing its Edgar Allan Poe influences on its sleeve, Corpse Bride has moments of that trademark Burton macabre approach but little of the emotional punch that made Nightmare so memorable. The film is at its best when it plays around with Burton’s skewering of societal norms, depicting the underworld as the most vibrant place while the land of the living is grey and smothered by expectations. When the film has to adhere to its rather uninteresting story, it’s much less satisfying.
Tim Burton's career began at Disney, where he worked as an animator and concept artist on films like The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron, but while there he also dabbled in his own short films. Frankenweenie, one of his first live-action productions, was a short film about a boy who brings his dog back to life after he's hit by a car. The short allegedly got Burton fired, with Disney supposedly claiming he shouldn't have been spending company resources on something too scary for kids. The irony that he was able to remake this short with Disney in 2012 was lost on nobody.
Remade as stop-motion animation, Frankenweenie is one of Burton's more tightly constructed stories thanks to its zippy 87 minute running time. Filmed in black and white and chock full of old horror references - this may be the most Easter egg-packed Tim Burton movie ever made - Frankenweenie is a simple tale that still manages to nail the sheer sadness of losing a beloved pet, even after he’s brought back to life. After making a few massive films one after the other to mixed results, there’s something to be said for a Tim Burton movie that goes back to basics, even if it doesn’t entirely have enough energy to keep it going.