Tim Burton was an animator at Disney in the early 1980’s. However, his unique style didn’t always jive so well with the projects he was tasked with there. The Fox and the Hound (1981) was one such project he worked on that failed to stimulate his unique creativity. I’m sure in a modest attempt to find something that suited the young talent he was soon moved to the role of conceptual artist where he did some early work on The Black Cauldron. But when that failed to inspire, he was given the opportunity to work on some of his own projects. Among them is a beautiful little film called Vincent (1982). What’s striking about it is how the classic Tim Burton aesthetic is already fully-formed, foreshadowing classic films like Beetlejuice (1988) and The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993).
Vincent was filmed in moody black and white using Burton’s signature style of stop-motion animation. It allowed Burton to pay homage to one of his childhood heroes, Vincent Price.
The story is a short poem about a young boy who wants to be just like Vincent Price. The young Vincent Malloy, a seven year old boy, who imagines dark, macabre scenes as a mad scientist and the many types of roles that Vincent Price is beloved for. While the film did not get much attention when released it is a perfect example of Tim Burton’s auteur vision that has spanned many of his films. The poem, also written by Tim Burton, is narrated by none other than Vincent Price himself. It’s a great piece of writing that perhaps marries equal parts Edgar Allen Poe and Dr. Seuss, and Vincent Price’s narration is terrific.
The two would remain friends after the film until Price’s death in 1993. They did work together again on Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990), where Price turned his own classic mad scientist role on it’s head creating a gentle inventor and loving father of the title character. Vincent Price’s legacy is an astounding one. Never has an actor been so closely tied to a type of character and presence throughout his complete body of work. His voice is unmistakable – almost terrifying and soothing at the same time.
It’s clear that Vincent was a deeply personal film for Tim Burton and it’s a glimpse at a visionary filmmaker at a time before A-list actors clamored to be in his blockbuster films. While Tim Burton continues to push story-telling with each new film, it’s always nice to look back on his early work. Below you can watch the short film in it’s entirety. Enjoy.