Tim Burton’s Early Student Films: King and Octopus & Stalk of the Celery Monster

Tim Bur­ton start­ed his live-action direct­ing career mak­ing Pee-wee’s Big Adven­ture and went on to direct a string of block­busters includ­ing a CG-heavy ver­sion of Alice in Won­der­land that fea­tured a lot more sword fight­ing than Lewis Carroll’s orig­i­nal sto­ry. Bur­ton has craft­ed a cou­ple movies that could be called mas­ter­pieces (Ed Wood, Beetle­juice) and alot more that decid­ed­ly could not (Hel­lo, Plan­et of the Apes). Yet what­ev­er project he takes on, his movies always look stun­ning, dis­tinc­tive and, well, a bit ghoul­ish.

Bur­ton start­ed his career study­ing ani­ma­tion at the Cal­i­for­nia Insti­tute of the Arts (CalArts) – an art school almost as famous for being the train­ing ground of the likes of Bur­ton, John Las­seter and Brad Bird as it is for its cloth­ing-option­al swim­ming pool. You can see frag­ments of a cou­ple of Burton’s movies he did at CalArts above. One is from a short called King and Octo­pus and it shows a cephalo­pod look­ing quite bored on a king’s throne while a guy (pre­sum­ably the king) shouts abuse from a dun­geon.

The clip is miss­ing its sound­track so your guess is as good as mine as to what the sto­ry is about. The sec­ond is Stalk of the Cel­ery Mon­ster, a movie about the worst den­tist this side of Marathon Man. Burton’s obses­sion with the macabre is clear­ly evi­dent even in these ear­ly works, espe­cial­ly Cel­ery Mon­ster, which has the sort of Franken­stein-like mad sci­en­tist that would pop up over and over in his lat­er work.

Based off of Cel­ery Mon­ster, Bur­ton was hired by Dis­ney as an ani­ma­tor and he was soon put to work on the very unmacabre fea­ture-length movie The Fox and the Hound (1981). It wasn’t his cup of tea. “At first I thought, ‘Wow, this is incred­i­ble,’” he told the Chica­go Tri­bune back in 1992. “But once I got into it, I real­ized I wasn’t cut out for it. I didn’t have the patience and I didn’t like what they [Dis­ney] was doing.”

For­tu­nate­ly, Dis­ney let Bur­ton make his own shorts. He ulti­mate­ly made three movies there includ­ing Franken­wee­nie (1984), which got him the atten­tion of pro­duc­ers in Warn­er Broth­ers and which was lat­er adapt­ed into a 2012 fea­ture. The first short he pro­duced, how­ev­er, was Vin­cent (1982), a stop-motion ani­mat­ed film about a Calvin-like sev­en-year-old boy who fan­ta­sizes that he’s Vin­cent Price. Check it out below. It dis­plays all the traits that would come to be known as “Bur­tonesque.” Many more great ani­mat­ed shorts can be found on our list of Free Ani­mat­ed Films, part of our big­ger col­lec­tion 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Tim Bur­ton: A Look Inside His Visu­al Imag­i­na­tion

Tim Burton’s The World of Stain­boy: Watch the Com­plete Ani­mat­ed Series

Vin­cent: Tim Burton’s Ear­ly Ani­mat­ed Film

Six Ear­ly Short Films By Tim Bur­ton

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow.

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