If you put together a list of the world’s greatest Vincent Price fans, you’d have to rank Tim Burton at the top. That goes for “greatest” in the sense of both the fervency of the fan’s enthusiasm for all things Price, and for the fan’s accomplishments in his own right. Burton’s filmmaking craft and his admiration for the midcentury horror-film icon intersected early in his career, when he made the six-minute animated film Vincent for Disney in 1982, three years before his feature debut Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.
The short’s title refers not to Vincent Price himself, but to its seven-year-old protagonist, Vincent Malloy: “He’s always polite and does what he’s told. For a boy his age, he’s considerate and nice. But he wants to be just like Vincent Price.” Those words of narration — as if you couldn’t tell after the first one spoken — come in the voice of Price himself. Vincent Malloy, pale of complexion and untamed of hair, surely resembles Burton’s childhood self, and in more aspects than appearance: the filmmaker grants the character his own idolatry not just of Price but of Edgar Allan Poe, and it’s into their macabre masterworks that his daydreaming sends him — just as they presumably sent the seven-year-old Burton.
Burton and Price’s collaboration on Vincent marked the beginning of a friendship that lasted the rest of Price’s life. The appreciative actor called the short “the most gratifying thing that ever happened,” and the director would go on to cast him in Edward Scissorhands eight years later. Price died in 1993, the year before the release of Ed Wood, Burton’s dramatized life of Edward D. Wood Jr. In that film, the relationship between semi-retired horror actor Bela Lugosi and the admiring schlock auteur Wood parallels, in a way, that of the more enduringly successful Price and the much more competent Burton.
Vincent also drops hints of other things to come in the Burtoniverse: Nightmare Before Christmas fans, for instance, should keep their eyes open for not one but two early appearances of that picture’s bony central player Jack Skellington. This demonstration of the continuity of Burton’s imagination underscores that, as both his biggest fans and biggest critics insist, he’s always lived in a world of his own — probably since Vincent Malloy’s age, when teachers and other authority figures might have described him in exactly the same way.
Colin Marshall writes on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer, and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.