The Lure of Tim Burton
July 2003

Danny DeVito on the set of Big Fish

Two clowns, a dog, and director Tim Burton.

Heartwarming? An emotional “journey”? An absentee father, an angry son, a deathbed coming-to-terms? Hmmm. Doesn’t exactly sound like Tim Burton territory. But then again… giants? A witch? Siamese-twin lounge singers? A Fellini dream’s worth of circus freaks swathed in colorful, vaguely Victorian costumes? Ah, now we begin to understand the attraction for the director of Mars Attacks!, Sleepy Hollow, the remade Planet of the Apes, and the better sort of Batman movie. If nothing else, he is a man who understands the grotesquely picturesque, all the way down to his bones.

The picture is Big Fish, based on the 1998 first novel by Daniel Wallace II. The conceit: only by examining his father’s alarmingly tall tales can a son, played by Billy Crudup, learn the meaning of the old man’s life. Albert Finney turns on the roguish charm as present-day Dad, Ewan McGregor takes over the role for the fabulist flashbacks, and the cast is nicely rounded out by Jessica Lange, Steve Busceni, Danny DeVito, Helena Bonham-carter (the director’s lady friend), and Alison Lohman. Like every project in Hollywood, Big Fish was once attached to Steven Spielberg, or he to it. But that director needs to tell another parent-child saga the way the Yankees need to win another World Series. Better to let Burton have a crack at it, returning to the relative intimacy and, we hope, earned pathos of what we think is his best picture –Ed Wood.

Danny DeVito and giant Matthew McGrory.

Albert Finney as the present-day Edward Bloom with Jessica Lange as wife.

Ewan McGregor as the younger version of Bloom.

Helena Bonham-Carter.