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1001 Nights Tale marks Hollywood director's film debut


©imdb & photocomposition ©DK 


Timothy "Tim" William Burton (born August 25, 1958) is an Academy Award and Golden Globe-nominated American film director, writer and designer notable for the quirky and often dark gothic atmosphere in his high-profile films.


Burton was born in Burbank, California, the first of two sons to Bill Burton and Jean Erickson. Burton described his childhood self as quirky, self-absorbed and highly imaginative. As a child growing up in Burbank, he staged an axe murder with his brother to scare the neighbors, prompting them to call the police. This is how he got his nickname "axe wound". He repeated the prank again with similar results. He found home life and school difficult, often escaping the reality of everyday life by watching horror and low budget films, to which he would later pay tribute in his biography of Edward D. Wood, Jr.. Another film figure of importance in Burton's childhood is Vincent Price, whose films would deeply influence the upcoming director's career. He was inspired early on by Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion films.


Robert Carradine (Aladdin), Valerie Bertinelli (Princess Sabrina), Tim Burton (director), Shelley Duvall  (Host, Narrator / Various Characters), Leonard Nimoy (The Evil Magician), James Earl Jones (Genie) ©


After high school, he won a Disney scholarship to attend the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. He studied at the Character Animation program for three years. Burton's first job in animation was working as a cell painter on Ralph Bakshi's adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings. Burton was then hired by the Walt Disney Studios as an animator apprentice. Burton's job was to draw for The Fox and the Hound, but he was dissatisfied with the artistic direction of the movie. He later commented on the refusal of Disney to use his design for The Fox and the Hound because his designs made the characters, in opposition to Disney's desires, "look like road kill." In 1982, Burton made his first short, Vincent, a six-minute black and white stop-motion film based around a poem written by Burton, and depicting a young boy who fantasizes that he is his (and Burton's) screen idol Vincent Price, with Price himself providing narration. The film was released alongside the teen drama Tex, for two weeks in one Los Angeles cinema. This was followed by Burton's first live-action production Hansel and Gretel, a Japanese themed adaptation of Grimm's tale for The Disney Channel, which climaxes in a kung-fu fight between Hansel and Gretel and the witch.


Next was the live-action short Frankenweenie, starring Barret Oliver, Daniel Stern and Shelley Duvall (an early supporter of Burton's work).Shot in black and white and inspired by James Whale's Frankenstein, Frankenweenie features a boy who reanimates his dog Sparky who was hit by a car. Although the film won praise at film festivals, Disney was concerned that the film was too scary for children and, not knowing what to do with it, shelved the film. (Frankenweenie later received a video release in 1992). Burton was not happy during his Disney period, but it was then that he wrote and drew the poem and illustrations that would be the basis for his celebrated The Nightmare Before Christmas (which he finally produced in 1993).


The Gothic world of Tim Burton ©imdb & photocomposition ©DK


Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp (1982) was directed by Burton in the early 80's specifically for the TV series Faerie Tale Theatre which was produced by actress Shelley Duvall, who had worked with Tim Burton's Frankenweenie. For the young unknown Burton it was a great opportunity to work as a director on a TV series that had hosted many major directors in the past such as Francis Ford Coppola. Shelley Duvall was to introduce the film in Oriental clothes and a background studio desert scene.


For a short merely 47 minute TV episode, Tim Burton clearly lacked a proper budget and time ( hardly a week) to produce a groundbreaking feature film or to set free all his creative potential and imagination that have since defined his work on the Big Screen. Yet for the Ed Wood fan he was, Burton does manage to take advantage of some of these limitations as an indirect tribute to the cult movie director as well as to his own first short movie Vincent. As a result the traditional legendary oriental tale of Aladdin clearly offers him the pretext to include some of his Fantasy like stylization and recurrent visual obsessions of his later works.


The Oriental Palace in Tim Burton's Visual Fantasy ©


One of the most personal scenes is where Aladdin (Robert Carradine) gets back the lamp after a magician (Leonard Nimoy) took him to the desert. The Magician is not as athletic enough as Aladdin to go through a passage way in a cave, so he tells Aladdin how to find his way to a chamber that contains the lamp. This particular scene allows Tim Burton to team up with his favorite Art decorator Rick Heinrichs and to include some of Burton's typical nightmarish visions like the monsters on the cave walls directly inspired by his first film Vincent, or the chaotic halls that gradually reduce in size like in some of the scenes in Beetlejuice or in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Even the container on which the lamp sits has a strange "Burtonian" quality and shape with a living hand that holds the object a little like the living chandeliers in Jean Cocteau's classic movie of The Beauty and the Beast.


This episode also displays some of Burton's fascination for mechanical objects that appear in most of his films like in Edward Scissorhands and again in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as well as on Big Fish.



Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp (1986)

part of the TV series  Faerie Tale Theatre ©



Amongst the characters in Aladdin, the Genies of the Lamp and of the magical ring are both performed by James Earl Jones (known for his famous voice as Darth Vader) who relishes in creating his eccentric character. As for the cunning evil magician he is portrayed by no other than our favorite Vulcan Dr. Spock aka Leonard Nimoy. In a particular scene we see him parodying Hamlet's soliloquy with a skull in his hands which confirm Burton's fascination with death in a playful way like in Nightmare before Christmas or in Corps Bride. The other characters like Aladdin or his sweetheart Princess Sabrina played respectively by Robert Carradine and Valerie Bertinelli simply serve the plot's romantic necessities. 



Tim Burton's Oriental Debut ©imdb & photocomposition ©DK


Tim Burton claimed never to have been entirely satisfied by the final product due to the limitations and rapid pace of shooting. He considers the show as an experimental one that allowed him to explore some of his early visual obsessions on TV at a time when he did not truly ambition to become a movie director. However Aladdin and his Wonderful Lamp remains an interesting testimony of Tim Burton's early works and his early fascination with the Fantasy genre and his early gothic visual influences. 





Authors Notes:


Faerie Tale Theatre: Aladdin & His Wonderful Lamp is Available on DVD at


Recommended Readings:


About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant. He is also contributes to OCPC Magazine in LA/US and to the London Based IC Publications The Middle East Magazine and Persian Heritage Magazine.

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