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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Free 'Alice' and Tim Burton's musical numbers

Posted By on Thu, Mar 4, 2010 at 8:07 PM

Fans of the team-ups of director Tim Burton and composer Danny Elfman will leap on Amazon's free download of "Alice's Theme," a five-minute track from their new Alice in Wonderland film, which opens tomorrow. Alas, spooky choirs and bouncy melodies affirms College Humor's deadly parody of Tim Burton's Secret Formula. Though some of Elfman's scores for Burton suffer from a being "samey," some of the director's most inventive scenes involve incongruous musical numbers.

Pee Wee's Big Adventure: "Tequila"

Burton's 1985 debut feature has many amusing moments, but the part that everybody remembers is Pee Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) getting down in a biker bar to the Champs' "Tequila," which starts in this clip around 2:30. You wouldn't call his dancing "good," but there's something engaging about it -- it inspires geeky dancers to imitate it if they ever hear it at wedding receptions or frat parties. The suspense building up to the scene, and the unlikely combination of Pee Wee's childish persona and the boozy surf music, really make it irresistible. (The film also marked the first collaboration between Burton and Elfman.)

Beetlejuice: "Day-O"

In the best scene of this supernatural comedy, recently deceased ghosts (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) try to drive out their new home's insufferable occupants with a unique form of possession. Like Burton's previous musical number, there's a winning incongruity between Harry Belafonte's earthy song (coming in around 1:45) and the pretentiousness of the party guests. Note the way they dance (especially Catherine O'Hara) as if their bodies are acting against their will.

Batman: Jack Nicholson's Joker has two pseudomusical numbers in the film, both set to songs by Prince. In Burton's brooding, timeless vision of the Batman mythos, Prince's pop-funk doesn't fit at all, as if the choice was made by some kind of marketing-driven corporate synergy rather than any match to the film's characters or style. The "Partyman" number when the Joker vandalizes the museum proves particularly awkward (and looks worse on Youtube), but the deadly parade scene set to "Trust" starts out with a memorable exuberance. There's an irony that the Joker would play "Trust" right before gassing his audience. Elfman's "Batman" theme on the soundtrack set the tone for virtually a generation of superhero movies.

Edward Scissorhands: "Ice Dance"

I wouldn't go so far to call this a dance number, even though Edward Scissorhands always feels like it's on the brink of becoming a full-fledged musical. With Elfman's swoony compositions, the allegorical story makes a sharp contrast between the pastel-colored conformist suburbs and Edward Scissorhand's (Johnny Depp) Gothic artistry. It probably wasn't much of a leap when Edward Scissorhands became a dialogue-free dance musical in 2005, with music by Terry Davies and Elfman, although Burton had little to do with it. You can see a montage from the stage show here.

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas: "Kidnap the Sandy Claus"

Credit must go where credit is due: Henry Selick directed the stop-motion animated musical The Nightmare Before Christmas, even though it feels like most pure distillation of Burton's sensibility of dark, dreamlike whimsy. Perhaps Elfman's lyrics aren't always the strongest, and the material features maybe one downbeat song too many, but the film crafts one haunting image and tune after another. The song most likely to get stuck in your head is the hilariously nasty "Kidnap the Sandy Claus." BTW, the one in red is voiced by Paul Reubens.

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride: "Remains of the Day"

Burton and Elfman returned to the animated musical well with Corpse Bride, directed by Burton and Mike Johnson. Corpse Bride doesn't really measure up to Nightmare Before Christmas, having a more familiar story and only four songs. The most entertaining and memorable number features Elfman's "Mr. Bonejangles," recounting the backstory of the Corpse Bride (voiced by Sweeney Todd's Helena Bonham Carter). The skeletal visuals and musicianship hark back to 1930s jazz and animation, but there's something wrong with any musical number that leaves so many words unintelligible.

Ed Wood: "Music Video"

Ironically, my favorite Tim Burton score is the one that Danny Elfman didn't write. Apparently Burton and Elfman had a temporary parting of the ways after Nightmare Before Christmas, so Howard Shore composed the music for Ed Wood, which evokes 1950s junk culture with bongo drums and sci-fi theremins. The movie includes a scene in which transvestite director Ed Wood (Johnny Depp) does the dance of the seven veils, but this clip is from a music video shot for the Ed Wood special-edition DVD, directed by Burton with choreography by Toni Basil (of "Mickey" fame). Speaking of music videos, Burton also directed a video for the Killers called "Bones" with plenty of B-movie special effects, seen here.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: "Augustus Gloop"

Burton's remake of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory is kinda sorta his first live-action musical, thanks to the elaborate numbers of the Oompa-Loompas (all played by Deep Roy). With lyrics adapted from Roald Dahl's original books, the songs are Charlie's most brilliant, inspired moments, featuring joyously goony choreography, eye-candy sets and costumes, Roy's deadpan expressions and Elfman's virtuoso command of different pop styles. "Augustus Gloop" is probably the best of the lot, but they're all fun.

Sweeney Todd: "By the Sea"

Burton succeeded beyond most people's expectations with his adaptation of Stephen Sondheim's brilliant but audience-unfriendly musical  Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Johnny Depp (in the title role) and Helena Bonham Carter (as his lovestruck accomplice) don't have Broadway-ready pipes, but still prove quite affecting in close-up. The darkest and most violent of Burton's already Gothic films, Sweeney Todd shows a flash of Burton's ghoulish whimsy with the pseudo-romantic number "By The Sea."

Perhaps Burton had musical number fatigue after Sweeney Todd, since Alice in Wonderland, despite the plethora of opportunities for song in the material, features no tunes, although Depp recites some killer verses from "Jabberwocky" as the Mad Hatter.

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