‘I Should Have Known’: Tim Burton Reflects On Troubled Relationship With Disney

 Tim Burton and Dumbo
Tim Burton and Dumbo

Today, Disney is the biggest media company in the world, and it works with some of the biggest names in the industry. Many filmmakers continue to work with the company again and again, showing that apparently love making movies for the Mouse House, but one director who has had a much more strained relationship with the studio is Tim Burton.

Burton has one of the longest relationships with Disney, having gotten to work for Walt Disney Animation Studios after graduating from CalArts. He worked on movies like The Fox and the Hound and the ill-fated The Black Cauldron, but Burton was a somewhat different sort even then. He recently spoke with the Independent about his time with Disney, discussing a story about a time he wandered around the studio with bleeding gums after dental surgery, pretending to be a vampire, and says that’s when he should have known his relationship with Disney was troubled. Burton said…

I should have known early on that I had a troubled relationship with Disney. That should have been the first sign. I guess it’s like Burbank, only worse... it’s like a family. I can look back and recognize the many, many positives of working there, and all the opportunities I’ve had. I can acknowledge each and every one of those very deeply, and very positively. Equally, on the other side, I can identify the negative, soul-destroying side. As in life, it’s a mixed bag.

Burton seems to have something of a love/hate relationship with his hometown of Burbank and feels the same way about Disney. Considering the sort of projects that Burton would go on to make after leaving Disney, from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure to Edward Scissorhands, it’s hard to imagine him working on Disney’s animated Renaissance, which is likely what he would have been doing had he stayed. His tastes clearly went in a very different direction than singing cartoon princesses.

At the same time, while Burton didn’t always get on at Disney, he was always willing to return under the right circumstances. The Nightmare Before Christmas was produced at Disney and has become a big part of the company, having taken over DIsneyland's Haunted Mansion for more than 20 years. In 2012, he turned Frankenweenie, an animated short he’d made at Disney in 1984, into a feature-length film. Most recently, he directed the live-action adaptation of Dumbo.

Tim Burton says he probably won't work with Disney again, but that doesn't mean he doesn't appreciate the work he's done there or what it has meant to him. He accepts that those experiences have shaped him as a filmmaker, for better or worse. Certainly, both Disney and Tim Burton have changed a lot in the last several decades so it's no surprise they have grown apart.