The One Thing That Scares Even Tim Burton

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride starring Johnny Depp
Credit: Warner Bros.

As a filmmaker, director, and animator, Tim Burton’s morbid style is distinct, unmistakable, and often described as dark. His Gothic and whimsical details create fantastical and visually stunning films that often lean into horror elements. But in a recent interview with The Independent, fans gained insight into what scares Tim Burton, the master of the macabre, himself.

That’s right, the man associated with films like Sleepy Hollow (1999), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Corpse Bride (2005), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), and every Disney fan’s favorite, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) admitted to something scaring HIM. Of course, his worst nightmares don’t have to do with exaggerated and stylized sets, costumes, make-up, or dark color palettes. Tim Burton’s fear surrounds the same issue that striking writers and actors fear and that big studios want to cash in on.

Tim Burton

Credit: Gage Skidmore/ Flickr

No, Tim Burton is afraid of AI, AKA artificial intelligence. Here’s why:

The popular site Buzzfeed generated AI examples of what classic Disney characters like Sleeping Beauty and Snow White might look like if they were in Tim Burton’s iconic twisted style. The article and images were viewed by millions of people, one of which includes the prolific artist himself. And he was not amused. Here’s what he told The Independent:

They had AI do my versions of Disney characters! I can’t describe the feeling it gives you. It reminded me of when other cultures say, ‘Don’t take my picture because it is taking away your soul.’ What it does is it sucks something from you. It takes something from your soul or psyche; that is very disturbing, especially if it has to do with you. It’s like a robot taking your humanity, your soul.

AI of Sleeping Beauty in Tim Burton's animation style

Credit: Lauren Garafano / Midjourney

Burton goes on to describe his art as “therapeutic” and hopes that exhibitions of his real work, like the upcoming showcase at the National Museum of Cinema in Turin, inspire young people to draw like he did when he was a kid and still does to this day. Artificial intelligence seems to steal the creativity and autonomy of bringing an idea into reality. The instant gratification of computer-learned techniques has the potential to take the place of true human creativity and innovation, especially in film.

The Independent notes that Burton fears AI poses a “greater threat to animation than any other art form,” especially when something that is based completely on his imagination can now be replicated in a few seconds by a computer. The whole point of creation is seemingly to birth something new, not clone something you admire.

Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas starring Jack Skellington

Credit: Disney

And if it’s scary enough to spook Tim Burton, the rest of us should certainly take pause as well.

If they can’t get Johnny Depp back for Pirates 6, will Disney try some form of AI for an approved cameo? Could someone commandeer Jack Skellington and create their own Halloween Town story? This kind of horror seems far-fetched, but AI is such new and wide-reaching territory that no one is exactly sure how to address some emerging issues.

Only time will tell.

About Lana Porter

Lana has never lost a Disney Trivia night. Maybe it’s the hundreds of times she’s been to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, her love for Disney’s ’90’s era hand-animated musicals, or the fact that she’s often likened to cartoon characters, but Disney and its magic have a special place in her heart. Her favorite Disney experiences include the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival, eating Mickey Bars on the PeopleMover, and crying during the Magic Kingdom fireworks show. One day she hopes to be chosen as the rebel spy on Star Tours. When Lana isn’t Park Hopping, she’s at home reading books of all topics, watching her favs on Disney+, or snuggling her two cats, which she swears are not named after Disney characters. She loves surprising people with her knowledge of the Marvel Cinematic Universe but admits she is still catching up with Star Wars. She is happy to combine her excitement for writing with her love for Disney-style storytelling and share what she can with the world!