The Burtonesque of Cinematic Fiction in Tim Burton Films Isaac Newton established three basic laws to explain how

forces cause motion. The Action-Reaction principle is better known as Newton’s Third Law. Before discussing the principle, let me first define action and reaction in relation to forces: An action is a force exerted by one object on a second object. A reaction, then, is the force exerted by the second object back on the first object that is causing the action. Now consider the Action-Reaction principle: To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In other words, for every action force there is, there is also an equal reaction force in the opposite direction. How can it be true that a reaction is equal and opposite, you ask? Simple: because the reaction is equal in magnitude to the action, but occurs in the opposite direction. Let me illustrate this. Imagine two boxers fighting in the ring. In the red corner we have boxer A and in the blue corner we have boxer B. Now imagine A lands a jab on B: A’s fist exerting a force on B’s jaw is the action, while B’s jaw exerting a force back onto A’s fist is the reaction. So, every time Thing A exerts a force on Thing B, Thing B exerts a force on Thing A as well. Thus, Action-Reaction always occurs in pairs.

Moving on from the background logistics into the more interesting details, I shift my attention towards director Tim Burton. Burton is known for incorporating his unique artistic twist into his film work, producing and/or directing dark, whimsical, imaginative films such as Beetlejuice (1988), Edward Scissorhands (1990), Sweeney Todd (2007), and Corpse Bride (2005) to name a few. Because I am what is to be considered a “Burtonite,” or an avid Tim Burton follower and huge fan of Burton films, I will focus on how the director incorrectly illustrates Action-Reaction principles in three of his films with much intent: Batman Returns (1992), The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), and Alice in Wonderland (2010). Let’s first take a look at Burton’s directed sequel, Batman Returns. The film’s plot centers around Batman, Gotham City’s hero, who must stop the villainous Penguin from taking over the city, while Catwoman schemes to rid Gotham City of Batman.

Batman Returns disobeys Action-Reaction principles in the second fight scene between Batman and the Penguin’s gang. With one punch, Batman is able to send his attackers flying through the air as if hit with a force powerful enough to do so.

The action force of Batman hitting his attackers is not equal to the reaction force of the attackers flying through the air from being punched. It is also unrealistic and impossible for Batman to punch an attacker and send them flipping repeatedly as a reaction result.

Batman, Penguin and Catwoman as imagined by Burton

Batman strikes his audience as a very mysterious and dark heroic character. When he strikes his attackers, he does so with ease while keeping a straight face. By disobeying Action-Reaction principles, Burton enables Batman to fulfill this character role with his subtle defensive moves. Moving onto the next Tim Burton-produced classic, The Nightmare Before Christmas is a full-length stop-motion animation film

that tells the story of Jack Skellington, Halloween Town’s Pumpkin King, who has grown tired of the annual Halloween celebration and (unsuccessfully) attempts to bring Christmas to the town.

In this film, Burton defies Action-Reaction principles of jumping. Before analyzing a Nightmare scene, let me first discuss jumping forces in relation to Action-Reaction. Jumping occurs when you push downward on the ground- the action- so the ground pushes upward on you- the reaction. Therefore, how high you jump depends on the force and on the distance over which you apply that force. If you are at a standstill, for example, and jump up without pushing off from the ground, you will not jump very high. However, if you squat down while pushing downward, and then jump, you will reach a greater jump height. When jumping upward and forward, the action force- when you push downward on the ground- needs to also be pushing towards your

back so that the reaction force (of the floor) is upward and forward. Now, let us put this in perspective as it pertains to the film. Tim Burton incorrectly illustrates Jump Action-Reaction in a scene in which Jack fights Oogie Boogie, the boogeyman. Jack jumps high enough into the air, without pushing off the ground, that he is able to jump over (and later, under) the moving knives.

Then, he jumps forward and leaps over the knives with great jump height, again, without enough push force (on the ground) to do so in reality.

When thinking about upward and forward jumps, I imagine this

scene similar to a running jumping over hurdles. The runner’s running head start allows him or her to leap over the hurdles. In the same respect, when thinking about upward jumps, I imagine a pole vault jumper using great action force to get a great jump height. However, in this scene, Jack jumps high into the air without pushing downward on the ground when, in reality, little or no force = small or no jump height.

Jack and Sally sketch by Tim Burton

Tim Burton defies Jump Action-Reaction principles to bring a feeling of lightness to Jack’s character, since he is meant to be a bonethin skeleton with spider-like similarities. This classic Tim Burton “scarytale” is meant to be dark, funny, beautiful and complex, with a mixture of fantasy, art, and imagination thrown in. Transitioning into the last directed film, Tim Burton incorrectly illustrates Action-Reaction principles as he takes his audience into the world of Alice in Wonderland. The plot focuses on Alice Kingsleigh and

her journey through Underland as she is reminded of old memories while creating new ones along the way.

In the scene in which Alice falls down the rabbit’s hole and enters Underland, Alice is sitting on the floor, when suddenly the room turns upside-down, and she appears to be sitting on the ceiling, hair dangling in the air, for a long period of time before finally falling to the ground.

In reality, the elapsed time that Alice is hanging from mid-air is

not possible. If the room was upright, and Alice was sitting on the ground, the action force of her sitting would produce a reaction of the ground exerting force on Alice. However, because the room is upsidedown, Alice (who is producing the action force from “sitting” on the ceiling) would cause the enormous mass of the ceiling to push her away (mutual repulsion). Therefore, she should have fallen immediately once the room started to turn, as opposed to “floating” in the air for an elapsed amount of time.

Tim Burton sketch of Alice in Wonderland’s Red Queen

Tim Burton prepares viewers for an imaginative world with Alice in Wonderland’s whimsical imagery. He defies Action-Reaction principles in order to portray the transition from the real world into the fantasy world of magical Underland, where anything is possible. Tim Burton’s style of producing and directing enables his audiences to feel as if they are literally stepping into his world and tapping into his artistic mind. Physics principles are defied in Tim

Burton’s Batman Returns, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and Alice in Wonderland to portray eerie, dark, whimsical, imaginative, and beautiful art to his audiences, giving viewers the full “Burtonesque” feel of his work.

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