Study Guide

Beetlejuice Director

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Tim Burton

Today, you know Tim Burton as the blockbuster writer, director, and producer whose films have grossed more than a billion dollars worldwide. He's kind of a big deal.

But back in the 1980s, Tim Burton was just a guy who had gotten fired from his animator job at Disney for making Frankenweenie, a short movie that was considered too scary to be shown to Disney's target demographic of young kids.

Burton grew up in Burbank, a surprisingly business-as-usual town for being in Movie Business Universe. Burton never felt "usual," and felt out of place in Burbank—an awkward, creative kid with an unconventional imagination. He loved to put on shows for the family and play pranks on people. Case in point: he once put fake blood all over his brother and pretended to carve him up with a knife (source). The neighbors called the cops.

We can definitely recognize that Tim Burton.

After graduating from California Institute for the Arts, Burton got a dream job as a Disney animator. Turned out, it was more of a nightmare for him. It was the opposite of creative. Basically, he said, you had to "remove part of your brain and become a zombie factory worker" (source).

That's when he tried live action, and produced Frankenweenie, a film about a boy who reanimates his dead dog. The powers-that-be at Disney thought it was too disturbing and weird. It never had a theatrical release in the U.S.; Disney wouldn't even give Burton a copy of it. They accused Burton of wasting company resources by making a film too demented for little kids.

And they fired him.

His big break came when Paul Reubens asked him to direct Pee-wee's Big Adventure in 1985. Reubens had seen a private screening of Frankenweenie and decided that Burton was his guy. Pee-wee was a hit and meant that Burton would have his pick of upcoming projects (source). The next script that came his way was Beetlejuice. Though he initially had a hard time attracting actors to the project because the story was just so totally weird, Burton's vision—and his weirdness—paid off in the end.

Beetlejuice would become the 10th highest grossing movie of 1988 and elevated Tim Burton's profile even higher. Because he'd proved that he could make original movies (and make money while doing it), Warner Brothers offered him the directing gig for their big-screen adaption of the Batman comics.

Bam! Pow! Zap!

In a way, Beetlejuice was the movie that opened the door for Tim Burton's eventual ascension to godlike status in Hollywood. Think of it like this: if Beetlejuice had been a flop, you might never have seen films like Edward Scissorhands or Corpse Bride or Ed Wood or Alice in Wonderland. Okay, you probably would have seen Alice in Wonderland at some point, but you wouldn't have seen it the Tim Burton way.

And a world without Johnny Depp in an orange wig is not a world we want to live in.

Revenge is Sweet Department: Burton remade Frankenweenie as a stop-action animated film in 2012, produced by…Disney. It got an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film, and won a BAFTA in the same category.

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