Tim Burton’s new film, Dumbo, took the No. 1 spot at last weekend’s box office over its first three days of release, selling a decent $45 million in the U.S. and $71 million in foreign markets. The film, Burton’s 19th, stars Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, my guy Danny DeVito, and, of course, Burton’s mid-career muse, Eva Green.
Seven of Burton’s 19 movies have made big money, and it looks as if Dumbo will also do quite well. This means that the auteur, whose last few films have not been financially successful, will be able to keep doing his thing.
As a kid, when I was first looking closer at cinema, Burton was the perfect entry-level auteur, having made some of my favorite films of my youth, including Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, and Pee-wee’s Big Adventure before I turned 10. The films were the edgiest all-ages films of their time and set Burton up to make more intellectually stimulating masterpieces like Ed Wood and Big Fish.
The release of Dumbo prompted me to revisit Burton’s career from the perspective of an adult. Over the course of two weeks I re-watched most of Burton’s films and found that, for the most part, his always visually complex work has mostly aged well. That being said, I couldn’t help but wish that Burton’s career had gone a different route. Upon the release of 2003’s Big Fish, it seemed he was starting the adult period of his career, and that excited me quite a bit. The thought of Burton’s incredible visual style being applied to mature stories had the whole cinephile world excited.
Then came his Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, then Corpse Bride. Around that time I started to lose interest in Burton, who had, at least to some degree, been replaced by Wes Anderson.
Now 60 years old, the King of Macabre is entering the third act of his career. While Dumbo is clearly an incredibly well-made film, it’s still nowhere near what I want out of a Tim Burton project. I want more. I’ve given up on him making mature/serious art films, and understand that he’s an all-ages Hollywood filmmaker who likes to work at the high-stakes level, but why does Burton feel the need to retell beaten old stories? His early films introduced us to new, exciting, classic characters, and that, I think, will be the story of his legacy if he doesn’t get serious soon. For now, here’s my ranking of Burton’s filmography:
19. Sweeney Todd (2007)
18. Corpse Bride (2005)
17. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
16. Big Eyes (2014)
15. Dark Shadows (2012)
14. Alice in Wonderland (2010)
13. Planet of the Apes (2001)
12. Frankenweenie (2012)
11. Dumbo (2019)
10. Batman Returns (1992)
9. Sleepy Hollow (1999)
8. Mars Attacks! (1996)
7. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)
6. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
5. Ed Wood (1994)
4. Big Fish (2003)
3. Beetlejuice (1988)
2. Batman (1989)
1. Edward Scissorhands (1990)