Color and Shape in Tim Burton's Films

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Color And Shape in Tim Burton’s Films

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Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  • Manipulation of Color
  • Manipulation of Shape
  • Conclusion
  • Works cited


Renowned American film director, Tim Burton once proclaimed, "I have a problem when people say something is real or not real, or normal or abnormal. The meaning of those words for me is very personal and subjective. I have always been confused and never had a clear cut understanding of the meaning of those kind of words." Tim Burton's distinct style when regarding his work in the motion picture industry has induced him to become a household name. His eccentric point of view and approaches set him apart from other distinguished directors. These extraordinary qualities are exhibited throughout Burton's creations. The movies The Corpse Bride, Edward Scissorhands, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory incorporate numerous cinematic techniques, all of which he has perfected. Tim Burton manipulates color and shape in order to highlight the conformity and disparity in society; he shows his audience the significance in individuality.

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Manipulation of Color

Tim Burton maneuvers color in an effort to demonstrate how the characters, scenes, and concepts are perceived as bizarre or strange in the eyes of societal norms. In Burton's film, The Corpse Bride, the manipulation of color is used exponentially throughout the movie. In the introduction and overview of the town, color is scarcely used. The town is dark, showered in numerous shades of grey, brown, and black, presenting the ideas of conformity. Later in the motion picture, vibrant and lively color is first introduced in the underworld, or land of the deceased. Burton portrays the abnormal and unique qualities as colorful and vibrant while the aspects of conformity are dull. This portrays the thought that conformity is "black and white" and boring, while being odd is vibrant and exciting. Burton is striving to identify the odd qualities in the film, so later, as they develop and the movie concludes, it is emphasized that it is not dreadful to be an outcast.

Also in the film, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, color was skillfully executed. For example, the first overwhelming introduction to color was the opening of Willy Wonka's factory doors. The opening of the doors invited shades of red, orange, yellow, and a plethora of other intense and dramatic hues to seep out. In the dark and colorless town, the rich hues of the factory revealed a further contrast to the norms of society. Throughout the movie, everything in association with being perceived and unique and different was presented as colorful and extraordinary. This identification helps to further support the value in being unique due to it presenting an outcast in a society that has conformed. Also by later cherishing the characters and individual qualities, the significance in being strange.

Unlike the previously mentioned films, the motion picture Edward Scissorhands places color on the elements of conformity rather than individuality. Through the introduction and overview of the town during the opening scene, the contrasting colors of Edward's castle and the rest of the town represent the theme of isolation. Throughout the town, the homes, cars, and and citizens are identical or similar to one another in color. They all were vibrant and vivid, while Edward's castle and himself were dark with black and grey undertones. Tim Burton's use of color in the movie is representing the divergence between every aspect of Edward and the town, or societal norms. This is further developing Edward as an outcast. Burton uses color to identify the differences between ordinary and extraordinary in his films. This handling of color establishes and represents the meaning and importance of distinctiveness in a society that has conformed and integrated.

Manipulation of Shape

Burton's manipulation of shape further identifies and strengthens the positive interpretation of being atypical. This is portrayed throughout the film Corpse Bride. In this motion picture, abnormal shapes are revealed away from the society. For example, in the woods, there are numerous swirls and odd formations. In the walls of the society, although odd in modern reality eyes but expected and the norm of the created town, the shapes are all similar or identical. By creating a contrast in shapes, Tim Burton is intending to differentiate between what is expected by society and what has gone astray. Through the later presentation of what was once viewed as odd becoming selfless and "saving the day", the idea that being an individual is portrayed as a positive aspect.

In the film, Charlie and the Chocolate factory, the interpretation of abnormal shape is bestowed in Charlie's home and the factory. The town is symmetrical and aligned, while Charlie's home and the factory are asymmetrical and sit on the outskirts of the society. The display of the shapes of Charlie's home and the factory convey the idea that Charlie and Willy Wonka are different in comparison to the society. Tim Burton is striving to develop the concept of a social outcast, but by the conclusion of the movie, it is perceived as acceptable.

During Edward Scissorhands, the initialization of shape is evident in revealing a symbolic meaning. In this film, the homes and buildings are also perfectly aligned with one another and the citizens have a normal appearance. Although the town is identical in the use of shape, Edward's home is a grand and different castle, and Edward himself does not have the typical formation of a human, for he beared scissors as hands. Tim Burton showcases the town and their norms in such a way to further illustrate the blind conformity found in society. Due to this conformity, Edward was seen as strange because he was not identical. Throughout the movie, Edward exhibits particular talents and abilities. For example, cutting hair and grooming dogs. This shows the value and purpose of being an individual; to showcase one's personal and extraordinary abilities. The use of shape enables the audience to grasp the representation of conformity and uniqueness, and their disadvantages or benefits. This understanding now contributes to a substantial comprehension on the exceptional view on being eccentric.


The utilization of color and shape manifest conformity and ideas of social outcasts, ultimately contributing the the auspicious perception and awareness of the value in peculiarity in Tim Burton's films. Though the societies in Burton's movies initially conformed and viewed difference as unacceptable, by the finalization of the film their sentiments altered. The delineated elements of being unusual transfigured from being recognized as a negative idea to exceptional and cherished. By utilizing his talent and expertise in directing, in combination with these exploited techniques, Tim Burton devises astounding motion pictures that will grace mortality into the distant future.

Works cited

  1. Burton, T. (Director). (1990). Edward Scissorhands [Film]. 20th Century Fox.
  2. Burton, T. (Director). (2005). Charlie and the Chocolate Factory [Film]. Warner Bros.
  3. Burton, T. (Director). (2005). Corpse Bride [Film]. Warner Bros.
  4. Cocca, C. (2014). The Monstrous-Feminine in Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride. Feminist Media Studies, 14(1), 1-16.
  5. Derry, C. (1997). Tim Burton: Interviews. University Press of Mississippi.
  6. Gingras, B. (2016). When Mere Mortals Touch the Divine: Religion and Folklore in Tim Burton's Films. Journal of Religion and Popular Culture, 28(2), 121-132.
  7. Hinson, H. (1999). Burton's 'Edward Scissorhands' is a snippy but charming fairy tale. The Washington Post.
  8. Kelley, B. J. (2014). The Authorship of Tim Burton: A Review of Auteurist Positions. Cinema Journal, 53(3), 157-164.
  9. Keogh, B. (2017). Tim Burton: Essays on the Films. McFarland & Company.
  10. Smith, T. (2006). Tim Burton: The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work. Faber and Faber.

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