Friday, December 16, 2011

Best Christmas Movies: Tim Burton Edition

Tim Burton is probably most known for his visual style, typically mashing up twisted and frightening images with the mundane world of American suburbia. Given the prevalence of ghosts, demons and creepity critters, Halloween is obviously his thematic holiday of choice, however it doesn’t take much digging to see that the guy has a major thing for Christmas. Almost all of his movies set at least some part of their action around the holiday season, so while he doesn’t make “Christmas” movies, per se, you can still find some truly innovative classics showing up around this time.

For my money, the best Christmas-ish movie that he’s done is Edward Scissorhands. I admit a certain amount of nostalgia blinds me a bit on this one – without going too far into the Ghosts of Clovis’ Past, I confess that the first date I ever went on was to see this movie. It also hits my sweet spot of showcasing characters that are essentially damaged beyond repair, but still trying to be something more than what they are.

Edward Scissorhands is a fairy tale about change and how to become something better, more beautiful. Edward, played by Johnny Depp, is a not-quite finished creation of a dead inventor, played by Vincent Price in his final role. Edward is shy and unsure, but has developed a talent for using the scissors he has for hands to make beautiful sculptures out of plants, bushes and ice. He’s trying to convert the loneliness and darkness of his life into something beautiful. Likewise, Winona Ryder’s Kim starts off as the “cool kid” cheerleader dating the controlling and violent Jim. Kim comes to love Edward after seeing beyond what’s on the surface and grows as a person because of it. But the most obvious example comes from the movie’s epilogue, where (spoilers!) an aging Kim tells the story of Edward to her young granddaughter on a cold winter night, explaining that before Edward came down from his mountaintop castle, it never snowed and afterwards it did, showcasing an entire community the manages to change and evolve after its involvement with someone new.

I’m a sucker for the visuals of the movie. Winona Ryder dancing in the snowfall created by Edward’s gigantic ice sculptures while Danny Elfman’s angelic score plays is easily the movie’s most iconic scene and absolutely the one that I look forward to every single time I watch it. I think I was lucky to see the movie as a very young teenager. The illustration of the simple and sweet love between Edward and Kim, uncomplicated by messy adult reality of the same emotion, is pretty much perfect for someone that age. Add in a very unsubtle dash of angst about connection and the inability to touch and hold someone, made literal by Edward’s hands, and you’ve got the perfect preteen emotional cocktail.

I'm 33 years old and this still melts my sad, bitter heart.

As such, it’s easy to see how Burton isn’t exactly hiding that this movie is a fantasy of himself and his own childhood. The nondescript suburban community tracks nicely with his own childhood in Burbank, California and Edward himself, wild-haired, shy, misunderstood artistic marvel that he is, is an obvious placeholder for how Burton sees himself. It’s that kind of nostalgia that so easily brings this movie into the Christmas movie pantheon, and not just because the final act is set on Christmas Eve. It aims for (and, largely, hits) all the same themes that traditional Christmas movies employ – innocence, family, love. Even Christmas cookies play a role.

The lessons and themes of Edward Scissorhands are not overly complex, but that doesn’t make them any less entertaining. Christmas movies are largely stuffed to the gills with sentimentality, from Dickens’ miserly Scrooge to modern family holiday flicks where everyone lives in a large country house and there’s always snow on the ground. We watch these movies to feel sentimental; to hope for, as Bing Crosby sang, a Christmas “just like the ones I used to know.” For me, who first saw this movie a few weeks before Christmas at age 13, it exactly fits the bill.

And even though it’s been over 20 years since I first saw this movie, I still listen to the Danny Elfman soundtrack every single bloody time it snows.

1 comment:

Maggie Cats said...

I think my favorite Tim Burton Christmas movie is Batman Returns.

Nice big softy.