Once upon a time there was an amazing man who told fascinating stories that delighted everyone who heard them. The stories were populated with bizarre and wonderful characters who were impossibly strange yet described with such clarity you could almost believe they were real. One day, this man made a film called Mars Attacks! and everyone questioned his sanity. Then he did a re-make of Planet of the Apes and all the people who had loved him for many years began to wonder if he had lost his touch.
Tim Burton's latest film, Big Fish is neither a return to the genius of his films from the late 80's/ early 90's, nor is it as disappointing as Apes or Sleepy Hollow. Big Fish brings the audience a kinder, gentler Burton who delivers his usual spectacle in a warm and fuzzy way. It is entertaining from start to finish, but may leave longtime Burton films pining for the old days.
Edward Bloom lived a charmed life, at least, according to his stories. Bloom's oft repeated yarns included tales of how he once befriended a giant named Karl, escaped from China with a pair of conjoined twins, and saw his own death in the glass eye of a witch. Over the years, Bloom's son, Will, grew tired of hearing about his old man's grand adventures. Frustrated that his father told him nothing but tall tales all his life, Will refuses to speak to his dad. When Will learns the old man is dying, he rushes to his father's bedside hoping to finally learn the truth about his father's past. He says, "[My father] talked about a lot of things he never did, and he did a lot of things he never talked about. I'm just trying to reconcile the two." Unfortunately for Will, but lucky for the audience, Bloom ignores his son's wishes and launches into his favorite stories.
Big Fish is Burton's most mainstream film to date and one of his most light-hearted. Burton's earlier films were like dreams made real: dark and filled with strange plot turns, while Big Fish is more like a cartoon come to life. There are lots of laughs in the film, all the characters are delightful, and even curmudgeonly Steve Buscemi is downright adorable as a poet who lost his way in the woods. Big Fish also manages to deliver a plot that is as well developed as the visual elements. Many would say this is a step in the right direction for Burton, but I was a little let down by the film's predictability. I liked Mars Attacks! because it was so completely bizarre and I hadn't the foggiest idea how the film was going to resolve itself. With Big Fish, you can see the ending from two hours away.
Every actor in the film is fantastic. Ewan McGregor is pitch perfect as the young Bloom and brings a classy style to the role where others would have camped it up. His delivery is somewhat reminiscent of his classic-movie-style performance as Catcher Block in Down with Love. Albert Finney is perfect for the role of the older Bloom. He has an excellent voice for storytelling and is just a loveable stubborn old man. I also enjoyed Billy Crudup's understated performance which fit perfectly with the no-nonsense character of Will.
I'm recommending Big Fish because its larger than life stories will best be appreciated on the big screen. I wouldn't be surprised if Big Fish turned out to be a kind of stepping-stone for Burton. His next picture is slated to be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and it couldn't be a more perfect choice. Big Fish proves Burton can be successful with a book-to-film adaptation, and both stories have a similar vignette structure. Lucky for lifelong Burton fans, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a much darker story and we can (hopefully) look forward to less cuteness and more craziness.
-Megan A. Denny