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September 2005
TIM BURTON’S CORPSE BRIDE: An Interview with Director Tim Burton

TIM BURTON’S CORPSE BRIDE: An Interview with Director Tim Burton

By Julian Roman

Tim Burton and Johnny Depp pulled double duty while filming “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” They were also working on the Stop-Motion dark fairy tale, “Corpse Bride”. The film is truly visionary and a welcome change to the inundation of CGI animation over the last few years. Tim Burton has a talent for these kinds of stories and is certainly in top form here.

Death and the afterlife has been a consistent theme in your films. Where does this fascination come from?

TB: Growing up in a culture where death is looked upon as a dark subject and then living so close to Mexico, I was always fascinated by The Day of the Dead. Where you see skeletons and it's all humor, music, and dancing. Sort of a celebration of life that always felt more like a positive approach to things. I think I responded to that, more than just this dark, unspoken cloud in the environment I grew up in.

Is the design of the characters based on The Day of the Dead?

TB: I used to have those figurines and they'd always have these nice scenes with them in clothes. There was a lot of humor and fun involved with those characters and that's what I felt was really inspiring to me.

Are you optimistic that the afterlife is as colorful as you depict it in the movie?

TB: I have no idea what happens, but like I said, I do respond to other cultures that treat life with a much more positive approach. I think this other form teaches, especially to a child, to be afraid of everything and feel like something bad is going to happen.

What were the animated cartoons that you watched as a kid and how did they influence this film?

TB: It immediately had to do with Ray Harryhausen. He was the guy. If I saw his name, no actor meant anything but his name. That's where I think the love of this type of animation came from for me, because you could see an artist at work. His monsters had more personality than most of the actors in the movies. He just brought such passion into the work. So to me, he was the guy who not only inspired me, but almost any animator. In fact, several months ago, Johnny and Helena and I went to his house in London and met him for the first time. He was just such an amazing man and so generous with his time and enthusiasm. He went to the set of "Corpse Bride" and production sort of ground to a halt that day.

What else influenced your style of animation?

TB: The Rankin and Bass "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer", those kinds of things that you grow up watching stay with you. They just form what you like to do. I wasn't a big comic book fan. I don't know if I was dyslexic, but I always had trouble knowing which box to read first. I kept reading the wrong box and thought this is a comic book that doesn't make any sense. I couldn't quite deal with it.

The movie has very dark themes. Do you think that it’s appropriate for children?

TB: Well, I've always had problems with that with certain adults. I remember that people were saying that about "Nightmare" and tiny, tiny little kids came up and they loved the movie. I think it's more of an adult problem then it is a kid problem. Even "Corpse Bride," I find is even softer in a certain way. It's basically an emotional love story with humor. Any kind of fairy tale or fable, have elements that may be slightly unsettling, but that's part of the history of those kinds of stories.

So you didn’t have any problems with the rating?

TB: No, PG, I think was appropriate. The story is quite emotional and I personally don't find it dark at all. Adults forget that kids are their own best censors. Some kids like that kind of stuff and some kids don't, they're usually the best ones to judge it. I think it's when adults are going "Oh, you can't see this, can't see that". Then it creates this climate of fear and it makes children more afraid

How did this film creatively differ from The Nightmare Before Christmas?

TB: The difference was that I designed that one completely. It was a very completed package in my mind. With this, it was more organic. It was based on an old folk tale, and we kept changing it. I had a great co-director with Mike Johnson. I feel like we complimented each other quite well. It was just a different movie, a different process.

Corpse Bride also has consistent themes of loneliness and awkwardness. Why are they so present in your films?

TB: The thing is that you're very affected by your early life. I think that if you ever had that feeling of being an outsider or loneliness, it just doesn't leave you. You can be happy or successful, but I think that thing still stays inside of you. It doesn't ever really leave you. You always will have that.

What made the story so interesting to you?

TB: The love triangle. They all are outcast in their own way and that's the beauty of the story to me. That's what gave it its poignancy to me. It’s bittersweet, sort of hopeful, and sad altogether. The juxtaposition of who is going to be with whom and what's going to end up happening was a very tricky balance to get.

Your wife, Helena Bonham Carter, mentioned that she had to audition for the film. Is that true?

TB: No, she's an actress, so she's making it more dramatic. It was probably a slight little bit of torture, but it's a two-way street. I think maybe because I'm with her, I probably was a little harder on her than I would be with somebody. Nobody else did have to audition, that's true.

Talk about working with Johnny again? What makes him so special?

TB: It was weird because we were doing them at the same time. He was Willy Wonka by day and Victor by night. It might have been a little schizophrenic for him, but he's great. It's the first animated movie he's done, so he's always into the challenge. We just treat it like a fun and creative process. That's the joy of working with him. He's kind of up for anything. The amazing thing is that none of the actors were ever in the room together, except for Albert [Finney] and Joanna [Lumley] did a few scenes together. They were all kind of working in a vacuum, which was interesting. Johnny was really canny about trying to find the right tone and making it work while not being in the same room with each other.

Johnny mentioned that he found his character for "Corpse Bride" after grilling you for fifteen minutes.

TB: We were shooting "Charlie" one day, I said, "Let's go over to the recording booth and let's do some recording." As he was walking over, he was saying to himself, "Oh, shit. What am I doing? What is this character?" The great thing is that he likes to work spontaneously. So really, in that one session, he got it. I think he might have been a bit worried to begin with, but I think he kind of likes that.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was a huge worldwide hit. Were you confident it would succeed? Did you have any trepidation remaking such a classic film?

TB: I like challenges like doing something that maybe you shouldn't do. There's something about taking a classic movie that people love and then doing another version of that. You make your decisions and then you live by them. It's always a risky thing, especially if you're thinking of classic movies. I think I there are certain ones that can't be topped. For me, it's been more successful to do more personal things. People kept thinking we were remaking the movie, but with "Charlie," none of us ever felt like we were remaking the movie. We always felt we were trying to make the book. John [August], the writer, never even looked at the original movie. We didn't feel any pressure to top the other movie.


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