Burton is a cartoonist. I don't mean this as a putdown. He is at his best in short sketches, and his main talents flow from that: imaginative as a toymaker and has a knack for comedy, both short-term effects, both a matter of tinkering in the small, but he puts his heart to it.
I pass on his big 'storybooks' like Big Fish because layered long-term narrative is another thing altogether. In Burton's case, it is something he stumbled over as the only financially viable format to convey his sketches, so he treats narrative as only the canvas instead of as itself the sculpting matter.
Some of his other cartoons fail to reach me pure, because they are still big and polished studio-work and that all but defeats the intention. This is just the right size, an appendix of sorts to Ed Wood. It is a sketch, his first ever, this time reworked into a feature. And naked enough (no Depp, no Hollywood excess) to see the wirings and so appreciate what he loves about his work.
As you flip through this sketchbook, you will find the following:
The film opens with footage of a young Ed Wood's homemovie shot in his backyard—a giant monster movie, the kind that a kid (who we can presume is Burton) growing up in the 1950's can be expected to admire.
A teacher who looks like Vincent Price and inspires him to perfect his 'science', in the film it is supposed to be real science, but is actually viewed in the context of 1930's horror and Shelley before, a kind of cinematic magic.
This kicks off the Frankenstein story proper with the dog, which includes additional references to both Bride and Son, Mummy and Invisible Man, and the fiery windmill conclusion of the Karloff original. (also reused in Sleepy Hollows)
Eventually, this leads to an actual giant monster movie, where different classmates, essentially using the same 'science' of cinematic magic, bring to life different monsters: one is a Godzilla-type creature (kaiju fans will know it is really Gamera), there are Gremlin- type critters, and a cat-bat creature that I couldn't pinpoint.
So, there you have it: 1930's Universal horror, 1950's sci-fi, 1980's pop Hollywood, all of it sketched here that influenced the man's career.
Typical for Burton: the story goes nowhere, the ending is Disneyfied like the first time, it is fun in short spurts, and he has nicely sketched the world of his childhood, which is my favorite bit here—a clean and modernistic 1950's suburbia as was advertised to housewives of the time, it is amazing some of the textures and light they managed to capture. Stop-motion trumps cg animation in my mind, physical presence carries energy into the eye—this looks so real, it feels like it is taking place down the street from Ed Wood.
Overall, I don't know if releasing this confirms the nagging suspicion that Burton is over and done with as a creative voice and is really scrapping for material, but it is nice to watch, and reminds why he was at one time an interesting guy. What will it take for him to bounce back?
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