Sunday, March 28, 2010

Tim Burton: Alice and the MoMA

I feel like I have been putting this off for no reason. But the time seems right to write about Tim Burton.

I have to start off by calling Tim Burton one of my favorite filmmakers. As a little kid and up until college, he was my favorite director. Although my tastes and views have changed, I still hold Burton in the highest regard.

The Tim Burton exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) is a subdued spectacle to see. I say subdued, because of the enormous popularity the exhibit has attracted, which I will explain below.

The exhibit is divided into two halves: "Growing up in Burbank" and "After Burbank." The former represents Burton's life until 1985, when his movie career took off. These include childhood projects and collected artwork (mostly drawing) from his days at CalArts and Disney. The drawings are what truly make the show exciting, as they demonstrate everything Burton is appreciated for.

His drawings illustrate an extremely fertile imagination. In Burton's world, we find charming characters based on animals and fictional monsters, and grotesque beings based on what we see everyday (what some would call normal people). What we see in the drawings is not something that can be duplicated easily, but these worlds have to be truly felt. One can not feel them unless they experienced the same childhood Burton did.

There are hundreds of ideas coming out of these drawings. It would be great if Burton did a 2D animated film someday. But for now, these drawings work just as well with (Burton's preferred) stop-motion animation.

I have seen it twice, and each time, it is crowded, and considering the space the show is in (one of the smaller spaces), it is not very pleasant.
The drawings, which are the central items of the show, are stacked in at least 20 frames per wall. To really appreciate this show, the drawings really need to be examined.

Anybody remember Poppy?

The second half of the exhibit covers Burton's years after Burbank. The years of 1985 to the present, when Burton went from struggling animator to feature film director. This part of the exhibit seems to be padded down with items and props from Burton's movies. The centerpieces of this half are the stop-motion puppets from The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. There is also some stop-motion tests made for Mars Attacks! (1996). The movie is not one of Burton's best, but Barry Purves' animation is still a treat for the right enthusiast.

Presently, the exhibit coincides with Burton's latest offering, Alice In Wonderland. Although the movie's reviews have been mixed, I enjoyed the movie immensely. When you admire Burton as much as I do, you run the risk of regretting it if the movie doesn't live up to expectations, and that has happened before (Planet of the Apes [2001] and Corpse Bride [2005]). But that didn't happen this time, thank goodness.

I don't think its a perfect movie, but I think it is being judged much too harshly. Burton and his crew handled the plot very carefully, making sure everything had a reason for being there, but not overdoing it. When one does a movie with this much visual extravigence, it usually helps that the story be simplified. Linda Woolverton's script is straight to the point, and not padded down with excess dialog.

The "real world" scenes that bookend the movie prove that Burton has the ability to bring out characters and their traits without having to rely on the visuals for guidance. This is something a lot of people forget, even though Burton has done it in several movies (particularly Ed Wood [1994]).

The 3D aspect of the movie works perfectly. It accomplishes the trait of distinguishing Wonderland (or "Underland" in this case) as its own separate world. And like Avatar recently, the characters become the visual aspect. And that brings out some wonderful work from the actors.

If I have any criticisms, it is with the soundtrack. Although Danny Elfman's score is strong, it fails to work in several areas of the movie. Personally, I love "Alice's Theme," but the other parts of the score don't seem to live up as quickly. And also, some of the sound mixing seemed rushed, and some of the character's dialog got overrun with other sound effects.

Well, that's all the hot air I have to fill Burton up with right now. Go see the exhibit if you can. You can always get the art book, but its not the same as physically seeing them.