The Weekend Rent: The Weird Wonders of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton

The Weekend Rent: The Weird Wonders of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton

May 11, 2012

When Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton get together, strange things happen. Depp has said yes to being Burton's leading man eight times since 1990, including the remake of the '60s TV show Dark Shadows opening in theaters in which Depp plays Barnabas Collins—an 18th century vampire who awakens and returns home in 1972. It is amusing to watch the woefully out-of-step Barnabas try to wrap his head around the '70s—lava lamps confuse him, he thinks the illuminated McDonald's sign is the entrance to hell, and he refers to hippies as "unshaven young people"—despite the fact that Dark Shadows isn't exactly heavy on story or purpose. Fortunately for you, noble renters of the new millennium, you can be more selective about which Depp-Burton pairing works best in your home.

Burton first chose Depp to be his leading man in Edward Scissorhands, a fairytale romance about a strange gothic orphan with a wild rat's nest of hair and scissors for hands that is discovered by a local Avon lady and encouraged to come live in her home, where he falls in love with her daughter (Winona Ryder). The fantasy favorite—one of Burton's best original stories—is available on both DVD and Blu-ray.

The cinematic bromance between Depp and Burton evolved when Depp took on the role of the titular cross-dressing director in the comedy biopic Ed Wood, which remains the duo's most critically acclaimed effort. Depp's enthusiasm was infectious as he played the deranged director of films like Plan 9 from Outer Space, but it was Martin Landau who landed the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Bela Lugosi.

Five years passed before Depp and Burton paired up again in 1999's period horror show Sleepy Hollow, in which Depp plays New York City police constable Ichabod Crane who is dispatched to the remote eponymous hamlet to investigate a series of beheadings. Depp again plays another quirky character for his favorite director by portraying Ichabod as a jittery 18th-century oddball who swears on scientific methods to solve the mystery of the Headless Horseman.

Encouraged by the success of several whacky roles for Burton and other directors, Depp went full-tilt crazy for his portrayal of Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. With his odd pageboy haircut, violet eyes, purple clothes and speaking in a gentle Michael Jackson voice, Wonka is the eccentric weirdo that you wouldn't let your kids anywhere near—unless they were in a Burton movie and they found golden tickets in their chocolate bars.

More satisfying and released the same year as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was 2005's Corpse Bride, in which Depp voiced the shy groom Victor Van Dort who practices his vows before the titular dead bride and is whisked away to the colorful underworld with her.

Two years later, Depp gothed out again for the dark musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in which Depp plays Benjamin Barker—a sinister barber who provides unusual meat for the pies of his tenant, Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter). Questionable singing numbers turned a lot of viewers off to this adaptation of the hit Broadway musical as Burton backlash began to set in, but nothing has yet to break the bond between the director and his muse.

This brings us to Alice in Wonderland, in which one's tolerance for Depp's whacked-out roles is tested yet again as he takes on the Hatter, who by design is, admittedly, mad. With his cracked-out energy, otherworldly eyes, pasty face and clown-orange hair, the Hatter explores the outer limits of how bizarre the cinematic offspring of a Depp-Burton union can be. The entire remake of the classic fairytale—indeed, the years-long partnership between Depp and Burton—comes crashing down in the film's final moments with the Mad Hatter's impromptu Futterwacken dance.

Some might think that Burton and Depp need some time apart, or at least some counseling, after that head-spinning Futterwacken nonsense, but at least in Dark Shadows Depp is more restrained as Barnabas. What Burton and Depp need more than anything—if they are going to continue this movie marriage—is for the unquestionably imaginative Burton to create another original character liked Edward Scissorhands for Depp to bring to life instead of remaking classic stories, musicals, fairytales and TV soap operas like Dark Shadows.

Categories: Features, At Home
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