Do we ever really grow up? Some of us do, I suppose. We’ve all seen them, the grown-ups, drinking their black coffee, while pouring over the most recent issue of AARP, the faint sounds of CNN playing in the background. Men in plaids and khaki; women in pant suits…or some such nonsense. And don’t even get me started on their shoes! What atrocity did their feet commit to deserve penny loafers?
In truth, we all know these grown-ups, these adults, pronounced with an A—not a U. Hell, we might even love them, and that’s okay despite their gross misrepresentation of the more colorful half of society: the dreamers, the artists, the writers, the musicians, the creators. The fifty-something grandmother with blue hair and dried paint on her hands; the retiree piecing together LEGOS in his basement, while Star Wars plays on his flat screen.
Not all of us are clambering for the days of malleable foods and syndicated episodes of MATLOCK. Even the lure of MURDER SHE WROTE isn’t enough to draw the most defiant of us to the dark side. And it’s not always out of fear. Sure, there are those who tremble in the shadow of their own mortality, cowering at each gray hair, like a tiny silver spear of death. But some of us blessed few choose not to leave our childhoods behind to collect dust. We’ve chosen to meld the two worlds together, allowing the misfortunes of adulthood to tiptoe among the playground of our younger days.
These people are the dreamers. They’re the ones painting the world in bright colors, filling it with whimsical images that blur the lines, so that for a moment we can live outside the confines of reality. And they’re all around us, heavily influencing the arts, particularly the film industry. One of the most notable of them is Tim Burton, master of delightful dreams and fanciful nightmares. The man with the ability to blend terror and enchantment with a deft hand few others can rival.
Tim Burton officiated the marriage between darkness and light back in 1986, when he introduced us to a strange man with a red bow tie and a subtly creepy playhouse. Admittedly, not my favorite of his characters, but Pee-wee was our first introduction into the concept that we didn’t have to grow up just because we had grown up.
From a sweet boy with scissors for hands, to an unscrupulous man-beetle, to a skeleton with Christmas spirit, and even a decaying bride, Tim Burton’s characters have captivated audiences, showing us that the world isn’t all good and bad, nor black and white, but is comprised of various shades of gray. A tapestry of rights, wrongs, and the wide, murky expanse in-between.
The man’s a talent and a visionary, and while he may not be a German-born theoretical physicist, his ingenious creations have tugged at the hearts of fans who prefer their whimsy to be served with equals parts strange & unusual, because too much sugary sweet rots your teeth.
The best artists do more than simply memorize this recipe. They embrace it, put it on display, string the damn thing with Christmas lights, and give it a dog named Sparky. Because when all else falls away, honesty remains standing, the lone bearer of beauty. Even when it’s ugly and scary, we know it’s multifaceted, and that if we give honesty a chance, it might just expose us to something lovely.
Tim Burton’s beloved films have seamlessly woven together the worst of our fears with our most innocent fantasies, and in doing so he’s stolen the hearts of the young and old. His films are visually delightful, creative beyond measure, macabre in all the right places, and endearing when they need to be.
Who knows? Without his unique perspective, maybe children’s tales wouldn’t have evolved past Sunday morning cartoons and princesses waiting to be rescued. And very possibly, those of us whose childhoods were filled with monsters might never have found a kindred spirit to bring to fruition what we already knew: Sometimes madness and sanity make the best of friends.