Lou Thomas, the BFI interviewer, asked Burton about the notorious cancelation of “Superman Lives” back in 1998, a major studio production that was nixed mere weeks before shooting was to begin (see Jon Schnepp’s 2015 documentary “The Death of ‘Superman Lives’: What Happened?” for the full story). Burton said he has “no regrets,” as he was able to creatively devote himself to the project for an extended period and was proud of what he created. “It’s one of those experiences that never leaves you, a little bit,” he said.
But the politics over the “Superman” cancelation got Burton thinking about the modern studio marketplace, the WGA strike, and the increasing corporate impulses away from originality and toward automated homogeneity. He said:
“[I]t goes into another AI thing, and this is why I think I’m over it with the studio. They can take what you did, ‘Batman’ or whatever, and culturally misappropriate it, or whatever you want to call it. Even though you’re a slave of Disney or Warner Brothers, they can do whatever they want. So in my latter years of life, I’m in quiet revolt against all this.”
Burton’s last movie, “Dumbo,” was indeed a Disney product, but one can see some aggressive anti-Disney imagery in it. Michael Keaton plays a conniving entertainment bigwig — very similar to Walt Disney — who has commodified “dreams” in a Disneyland-like theme park. The film’s climax involved the Walt Disney character trying to shoot a flying Dumbo using a weapon that looks like the Death Star (“Dumbo” was made after the Disney/Lucasfilm acquisition). In the process, he destroys Disneyland. Disney using “Star Wars” to destroy Disneyland while an icon from the company’s Golden Age flies free is a pretty potent series of symbols.