Tim Burton is known for his love and dedication to stop-motion animation. With his tale of Jack Skellington being the first full length feature stop-motion film by an American studio his name is synonymous with the medium. After penning, (but not directing) The Nightmare Before Christmas, he co-directed the feature film Corpse Bride, about a wayward groom who accidentally marries a dead girl. Last year Burton released his first solo directed stop-motion feature Frankenweenie, about a boy who resurrects his beloved dead dog. Despite these three great stop-motion films for this months Movies in Motion we go back to a hidden Burton gem from his days as a Disney animator.
Vincent was written originally as a poem by Burton when he worked as a Disney animator. Although Burton was happy to work for such a prestigious company, drawing cute animals and colourful landscapes was not his own style. He longed to have the freedom to create darker more edgy work. His creativity was noticed and he was given a grant to make a short film based on his ideas.
The character of young Vincent is partially based on Burton himself who considered Price as one of his greatest idols. Price was famed for his appearances and associations with gothic fiction, Hammer Horror and known for his eerie and powerful voice.
The style of the work is classic Burton and contains many of his director trademarks. The short is Gothic which is how Burtons work is most commonly categorized. As with its visuals there is a clear contrast of light and dark in the works themes. Burton often reflects light and dark or the world of the living with the world of the dead. Burton’s vision will usually make the world of the dead, or the dark, appear more interesting and striking than the world of the living. This is clearly seen in Vincent with the contrast of Vincent’s dull reality and his striking dillusional fantasy.
The medium is of course stop-motion. This is the purest form of stop-motion that Burton has used with its mixture of motion and hand drawn animation. Instead of aiming to make the movements and actions in the film as smooth as possible Burton has allowed the piece to retain its static and edgy asthetic. This fits so well with Burton’s Gothic style.
Burton as a director has always drawn inspirations from his favourite works and genres. For Vincent he drew from the German Expressionist films of his childhood. Most notably the film is in black and white. By no means dull black and white but striking monochrome. Other clear references to German cinema are the films striking contrasts, angeled visuals and sharp edges. Segments of the short conjure images of Frits Lang’s Metropolis or German classic Nosferatu. The image of lone Vincent accending a jagged dark staircase or the shadow of Vincent’s dog Abacrombie are homages to the film movement.
Price has a magnificent voice. His abiliy to add an eerie depth to his voice work became his trademark feature. His voice has a tone that has been utilised in tales of the dark and macabre yet he still manages to sound warn and playful. Price was the voice over for Michael Jackson’s Thriller as well as narrating and starring in Edgar Allen Poe’s work. Even The Simpson’s paid homage to Price’s great voice by doing a tribute of the late great actor in two episodes.
Although Disney were happy with Burton’s inventive short it was destined to spend its days locked in the Disney vault. The short is an added feature on special editions of The Nightmare Before Christmas but is otherwise unknown outside of Burton’s loyal fan base. The film is a clear testament to the young Burton’s creativity and talent. After leaving Disney Burton moved more into live-action film making but his passion for stop-motion has never faulted despite his feature film success.
With rumors that Burton is in talks to gain the rights to The Addams Family for his next animation project we still have much to gain for stop-motion from the great Tim Burton.