Friday, March 5, 2010

Tim Burton: Local Burbank Boy Does Good

Tim Burton’s latest film “Alice in Wonderland” hits movie theaters on Friday, March 5 and as the trailers show, the director is sure to pluck audiences from their seats and plop them down in the middle of an otherworldly experience.

Burton’s famous for his wacky characters and off-the-wall cinematic universes. But some might be surprised to learn the unconventional helmer had a very ordinary upbringing in the very suburban town of Burbank, California.

Burton was born on August 25, 1958 to Will and Jean Burton. Jean worked at a gift shop and Will worked at the Recreation Department for the City of Burbank. The family, along with Tim’s younger brother, Daniel, lived on the 2000 block of Evergreen Boulevard. He attended the local public schools Providencia Elementary, Luther Burbank Jr. High, and Burbank High but, by all accounts, never fit in with his suburban peers and focused on his art.

And yet, Burbank, was his home. As he told Los Angeles Times writer, Scott Timberg, "The thing about Burbank was, life sorta ended at the Smoke House," referring to the meat and potatoes eatery across the street from Warner Bros. studio. The landmark restaurant marks an unofficial finish line for the San Fernando Valley on the way over the hill into Hollywood. More than just his childhood home, Burbank and the Valley would be the petri dish for Burton’s growing career.

Burton’s emerging artistic talents were soon recognized and he was given a Disney scholarship to attend the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. Not long after, he was hired by the studio to work in its Burbank facilities as an animator for “The Fox and the Hound” and then as a conceptual artist on “The Black Cauldron.” But his edgy style did not quite fit the Disney mold. So he was allowed to focus on his own projects.

What followed were two short films. The animated short “Vincent” featured voiceover from his childhood hero, Vincent Price. But it was the almost six minute long live action film, "Frankenweenie," that would launch Burton’s career.

Horror novelist Stephen King saw the short, recommended it to Warner Bros. studio executive Bonnie Lee. She, in turn, showed it to actor Paul Reubens, who was developing a film for his stage character Pee-wee Herman and thought Burton would be the perfect person to direct. So, local boy, Tim Burton moved down the road to Warner Bros. and directed his first feature film “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.”

His movie making ultimately took him to London where he made movies like “Batman,” “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street,” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” and resides with his wife, actress Helena Bohman Carter and their two children, a 6-year-old son Billy Raymond and a 2-year-old daughter Nell Burton.

All of the local movie houses Tim Burton went to as a child have shut down but if you want to see “Alice in Wonderland” in the director’s hometown (or to find a theater near you) visit the AMC website.

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