Tim Burton’s long lost short film adaptation of Hansel And Gretel is now available online and provides a fascinating glimpse into the auteur’s development. Tim Burton’s first film was Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure from 1985, but it was 1988’s Beetlejuice that singled him out as a unique talent. The film’s mix of comedy and horror, combined with his visual style and Danny Elfman’s score, made it a surprise hit. Burton would follow the movie with Batman, the blockbuster event of 1989 that would have a profound impact on comic book movies moving forward.
Tim Burton would produce and direct a lot of great movies in the years that followed, with each bearing his distinct style and tone. This includes Edward Scissorhands – the first of many collaborations with Johnny Depp – The Nightmare Before Christmas, Batman Returns and Ed Wood. Many of the filmmaker’s most recognizable troupes would later become the subject of parody, however, with some critics and even fans feeling his style became a little played out over time.
Early in his career, Tim Burton worked as an animator and concept artist for Disney on movies like Tron, though his tendency towards darker material didn’t make him a natural fit. He won notice with 1982 stop motion short Vincent, about a young boy obsessed with Vincent Price, for which the legendary actor would provide a voice over. Burton followed this with his first live-action project, a short film based on classic fairy tale Hansel And Gretel.
Tim Burton’s Hansel And Gretel was produced for over $100,000, and it’s sets and visuals are heavily inspired by German expressionism. The short is quite faithful to the original Brothers Grimm tale, despite odd quirks like a kung fu battle between the title duo and the witch, who uses candy cane nunchucks. There’s also a character called Dan Dan the Gingerbread Man, who sings an odd cover version of Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?” and wants Hansel to eat him.
Despite being somewhat crude when compared to his later work, a lot of stylistic elements that would recur in Tim Burton’s later career crop up in Hansel And Gretel. The short would only air once on The Disney Channel in 1983 and subsequently disappeared for decades. It became so obscure people started to question whether it even existed, as there was little evidence outside of some rough sketches. It finally resurfaced in 2009 as part of a Museum of Modern Art retrospective of Tim Burton’s work, before eventually making its way online.
One reason Hansel And Gretel was supposedly tough to track down was that Tim Burton himself was somewhat embarrassed by it. The story itself has been reinvented many times, including 2020’s Gretel And Hansel and action/adventure Hansel And Gretel: Witch Hunters. While Burton’s Hansel And Gretel isn’t one of the best adaptations by any means, it’s also kind of fascinating looking back on it and seeing the seeds of the filmmaker he would become.
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