The BIG Question - Are Tim Burton's Films Too Similar For Their Own Good?


Many of the negative reviews of Alice In Wonderland pointed at the fact that Burton was in his comfort zone: he had yet again gone for somewhere un-worldly which he could imbue with his own brand of candy cane hallucinations. This is a problem.

It is a problem for two main reasons. Firstly, we know what we're getting. When sitting down to watch a Burton film are we surprised anymore to find a world populated by overt extroverts, often with some physical deformity which hampers their ability to communicate with the outside world? Are we surprised at the confrontation we are faced with between colour-coded primaries of good and evil? Never. Burton has become predictable in both his choice of world and his choice of Gothic vs day-glo palette. His most recently-announced film is a remake of The Adams Family.

It's also a problem because his style, more often than not, just doesn't work. In Alice In Wonderland it led to us feeling too disconnected from the human troubles of our protagonist, in Mars Attacks! too willing to laugh at moments that weren't intentionally funny, in Batman Returns too subverting of what was already dark source material. Burton needs to change it up and do something different and it is telling that his major critical success to date is Big Fish, a film where he left the comfort blanket of Johnny Depp and reigned in some of his more outlandish visions.


The reason that Burton's films are so good and have such a large following is exactly because of his unique style which, yes, does make his films appear similar but really, once you look closely are they really?

Sure Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas look fairly similar but look closer: firstly, Burton didn't even direct The Nightmare Before Christmas (a common misconception) and secondly, although they're both animated, they are completely different stories with completely different tones and aesthetics.

Examine his other work closely: is Big Fish anything like Edward Scissorhands, Alice anything like Sleepy Hollow, Ed Wood anything like Mars Attacks!? Whilst each does share a certain artistic style each also has a certain style of its own - informed by Burton, but driven by the film itself. The criticism doesn't hold water because, in short, Burton's films aren't even that similar, let alone 'too similar for their own good'. His style does show through and yes he has a propensity for the Gothic but really, each film is allowed to grow on their own - exactly the mark of a quality director.


  1. I'm always sensitive to Burton criticism, even though I don't LOVE him. I didn't like Alice in Wonderland very much, but it fails because it less like Burton work than normal.

    Stylistically I suppose the similarities are rampant, the dark alleys of fleet streets, the woods of Corpse Bride, the forests of Wonderland and Sleepy Hollow. But it's only ostensibly at best. They're all done in different contexts.

    Good question though.

  2. Burton's reached that zone, much like Spielberg and sci-fi has, where they have a handful of films that are kind of similar. So they get socially associated with that visual representation. I think the problem with Alice is that it fit the Burton pre-conception way too well. His other works like Big Fish, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, played around with that conception, but (with perhaps the exception of Edward Scissorhands) we're completely apart of it.

    Alice, on the other hand, sat right into the middle of all his popular criticisms and strengths, highlighting both incredibly well.

  3. Good point, but I don't like his movies because not only do they incorporate the same style, but the same themes, hair, and daddy-issues.

  4. Andrew - there's many people that will defend Burton and I think that's fine: his films are of the sort that inspire a big, passionate fanbase. I'd agree that yes, although there are perhaps only face value simularities, his films tackle different subjects but I think his bizzaro wackiness could do with a rain check. I agree with James Rocchi's 'typical Burton protagonist' criticism though and I think it not only applies to Alice but also to both leads in Sweeny Todd.

    Uni - I think you're absolutely right about Alice. It fit to comfortably into his'zone' and, to be honest, I think he got lazy. There is very little that is genuinely interesting in that film.

    Simon - I agree: the hair is a problem. But seriously, you do make a very good distinction: between subject and style. I think it's valid to say that despite tackling different subject, Burton retains the same style, which some will like and others won't.