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Tim Burton Called Disney a ‘Horrible Big Circus,’ Says He Will Not Work With Them Again

Photo Credit: Ian Gavan / Getty Images
Photo Credit: Ian Gavan / Getty Images

Filmmaker Tim Burton has worked with Disney multiple times over the course of his career to create some of the weirdest, creepiest, and most beloved films the studio has released. Unfortunately, those may be all the movies fans will get with Disney and Burton working together.

Tim Burton got his start at Disney

Still of an animated man and a cat
Tim Burton’s first short film with Disney, ‘Victor,’ sets a lot of the foundation work for his style of animation. (Photo Credit: petrover / YouTube screengrab)

Disney first hired Burton in 1981 after seeing his work on the animated short Stalk of the Celery Monster while he was studying at the California Institute of the Arts. Burton’s earliest contributions to the studio included work as a junior animator on 1981’s Fox and the Hound, though he was uncredited. Burton soon got funding for his own short horror film, Vincent, which set the stage artistically for a lot of his future projects.

Over the years, Burton has worked with Disney on other acclaimed films like A Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), James and the Giant Peach (1996), and Alice in Wonderland (2010).

Frankenweenie got him fired

A mother and child with a dog that looks like it was sewn together
The 1984 film was vaulted by Disney until its re-release years later. (Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures / MoviePics1001 / MovieStillsDB)

Before the 2012 animated remake, Burton created the original Frankenweenie as a short, 30-minute film starring real actors and a real dog. The storyline loosely follows the classic Frankenstein plot, featuring a young Victor Frankenstein whose dog is struck by a car in front of him. In a scientific experiment involving lightning, he brings his dog (instead of a monster) back to life and causes great concern to his neighbors.

The film was shown in only one theater before being locked in the Disney vault for years. It was deemed too scary to be shown to children. Burton was fired in 1984 for what Disney described as him “wasting money” on films meant for children that ended up being too scary for them. Burton said his first departure from Disney  was “a ‘thank you very much, but you go your way, and we’ll go our way’ kind of thing.”

Burton would be hired and fired from Disney multiple times throughout his career.

Dumbo was his final Disney film

Tim Burton leaning out of a travelling cart
Tim Burton says that ‘Dumbo’ was his last film working with Disney. (Photo Credit: Walt Disney Pictures / Hope72 / MovieStillsDB)

In 2019, Disney released the live-action remake of Dumbo, with Burton as the director. At the time, Burton described his dynamic with the studio: “At Disney, they like me, but I get paid to be the slightly accepted weirdo.” He believed that he, like the character Dumbo, was the accepted weirdo. Burton found himself relating to the little elephant in more ways than one.

Burton recently explained, “The thing about ‘Dumbo,’ is that’s why I think my days with Disney are done, I realized that I was Dumbo, that I was working in this horrible big circus and I needed to escape. That movie is quite autobiographical at a certain level.” He made this public statement while attending the Lumiere Festival in France, where he was awarded the honorary Prix Lumière for his contributions to the film medium.

He is unlikely to work with Disney again

Headshot of Tim Burton
Director Tim Burton attends the ‘Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children’ New York premiere held at Saks Fifth Avenue on September 26, 2016, in New York City. (Photo Credit: Brent N. Clarke / FilmMagic / Getty Images)

Burton says that Disney has gotten too big for him. “It’s gotten to be very homogenized, very consolidated. There’s less room for different types of things,” he added, noting that Disney has turned its focus to Star Wars and the Marvel cinematic universe. As a result, the chances of Burton working with Disney again are slim. As he put it, “I can only deal with one universe, l can’t deal with a multi-universe.”

This doesn’t mean Burton is done making films or working with studios. He previously said that he’d never really thought about going the way of indie films, as his career had always been in collaboration with studios. “Here’s the thing. Independent film, I don’t know. I’ve only worked mainly with studios so I never really understood what an independent film was,” he said.

More from us: Michael Keaton Took a Hiatus From Hollywood, and Years Later Candidly Explained Why

Burton’s new series, Wednesday, is set to release in November on Netflix.

Samantha Franco

Samantha Franco is a Freelance Content Writer who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Guelph, and her Master of Arts degree in history from the University of Western Ontario. Her research focused on Victorian, medical, and epidemiological history with a focus on childhood diseases. Stepping away from her academic career, Samantha previously worked as a Heritage Researcher and now writes content for multiple sites covering an array of historical topics.

In her spare time, Samantha enjoys reading, knitting, and hanging out with her dog, Chowder!