15. Dumbo (2019)
Starring: Colin Farrell, Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito, Eva Green, Alan Arkin
Plot: A baby elephant with unusually large ears is a lonely outsider until his ability to fly makes him the star attraction of his ramshackle circus and he catches the attention of an entertainment entrepreneur.
Not a bad fit for Burton in theory, but far from the quality of the films of his heyday. By now, he’s well over his grudge with Disney and the House of Mouse are likewise very happy to keep handing him good gigs following Alice breaking the $1Billion barrier.
A pretty faithful remake of the 40s animation refracted through a Burton sideshow prism is followed by a bizarre story continuation where Dumbo is taken to not-Disneyland and Michael Keaton chews scenery like a malfunctioning woodchipper. Dumbo himself is cute, Danny DeVito is as reliable as always even if he isn’t stretching himself playing at least his third circus ringmaster, but none of the others in the cast provoke any reaction in the viewer whatsoever.
14. Mars Attacks! (1996)
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Pierce Brosnan, Sarah Jessica Parker, Glenn Close, Natalie Portman
Plot: Mars invades Earth and the President of the United States, along with a group of lonely American outsiders, mount an ineffectual effort to fight back or make peace.
This one is a lot funnier when you’re under the age of ten. It hasn’t aged well.
The calibre of cast Burton managed to assemble only impresses more with time (three Oscar winners and six nominees for those counting). It may seem like a lot of stunt-casting, but that only subverts your expectations – Jack Nicholson plays two characters and gets killed off twice, and Pierce Brosnan and Sarah Jessica Parker, two of the biggest stars of the 90s, spend much of the runtime as detached heads. It’s too broad to be taken in any way seriously, and a few good gags aside (like the “No applause” and “No birds” public warning signs after the disastrous first contact), it’s not quite sharp enough as a comedy either.
Recommended for you: So Bad It’s Good: Mars Attacks!
13. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure (1985)
Starring: Paul Reubens, Elizabeth Dailey, Mark Holten, Diane Salinger, Damon Martin
Plot: An eternally happy man-child, seen as a weird and lonely outsider by the world, goes on a road trip across the USA to retrieve his stolen bike.
Following a distinctively-dressed weirdo on a quest to belong couldn’t be more in Burton’s wheelhouse.
Have you ever seen an episode ‘Pee-wee’s Playhouse’? It’s a thing to behold – a bubble-gummy mischievous stream of consciousness.
Burton takes a character he clearly loves and identifies with, gives him a state-spanning adventure and then cuts Paul Reubens loose to do his thing. It’s a colourful romp and worth seeing for how everyone Pee-wee meets on his travels reacts to him and how he deals with challenging situations in his own unique way, though it does still feel like a bloated TV episode. Also, your mileage on this one is almost entirely dependent on your tolerance of Pee-wee’s antics. Be warned.
12. Frankenweenie (2012)
Starring: Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan
Plot: Victor, a lonely outsider and boy genius brings his recently departed dog back to life with disastrous consequences for his suburban town.
Despite being a well intentioned and loving remake of his own short film, the feature-length 2012 animated feature Frankenweenie doesn’t quite live up to expectations.
The characters are wonderfully modeled, especially the undead pooch formally known as Sparky who must be the most adorable thing to ever come from beyond the grave, and there’s also a skewed heart to the feature that runs deep with references of Universal horror movies and monster movies in general (let’s play a game of spot-what-classic-monster-that-pet-is), but there was never enough here to satisfactorily fill a feature runtime. It’s pretty shallow thematically speaking and strangely aloof and unemotional for all the professed feelings, though you do have to admire the craft.
11. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
Starring: Eva Green, Asa Butterfield, Samuel L Jackson, Judi Dench, Terence Stamp
Plot: A lonely outcast boy, on a quest from his grandfather, finds his way to a time-locked mansion home to children with special powers, but dark forces are seeking the mansion and their peculiar inhabitants for sinister purposes.
The final battle in this Hollywood fantasy movie takes place on Blackpool Pier. As laughably ordinary as that seems to a British viewer, this is unquestionably a VFX high point of Burton’s career, gleefully referencing Ray Harryhausen as an army of skeletons scrap with creepy Slender-Man-looking monsters on the aforementioned tourist attraction. This is Burton revelling in producing something really gruesome and macabre for young audiences – after all, the baddies eat the eyes of children to keep themselves from turning into monsters.
It retains its impact in a magical-realist way, setting out to “separate fantasy from reality” in terms of the plot but doing quite the opposite by the end. Eva Green is a highlight as a kind of mad goth Mary Poppins and the kids are all given distinct moments to shine.
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