Released in 2003, Big Fish was somewhat of a departure for Tim Burton. A movie that didn’t star Johnny Depp and took a huge leap from his usual quirky films like Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, and Ed Wood just to name a few. Big Fish stars Ewan McGregor (young Ed Bloom), Albert Finney (elder Ed Bloom), Billy Crudup (Will Bloom), Jessica Lange (elder Sandra Bloom), Alison Lohman (young Sandra Bloom), Helena Bonham Carter (Jenny & the witch), Robert Guilluame (elder Dr. Bennett), Marion Cotillard (Josephine Bloom), Matthew McGrory (Karl the Giant), Missi Pyle (Mildred), Loudon Wainwright III (Beaman), Ada Tai (Ping), Arlene Tai (Jing) and last but not least the great character actor Steve Buscemi (Norther Winslow). This film was adapted from the Daniel Wallace novel by John August.
Will Bloom has heard his father’s stories all his life. Huge outrageous tall tales that, while he was young seemed great and wonderful, became irritating as Will got older. So, Will marries and moves overseas to France with his wife (she’s French) where they live and work. One day, Will gets a phone call from his mom that his father is dying. He travels home to reconcile with his father and finally get to the bottom of those tall tales.
The theme of this film is the estrangement of the father and the son; which seems to mirror the relationship Burton has with his own father. He reflects in an article that he had the desire to leave the house at a very early age. This is also similar to the character of Will Bloom. Burton frequently depicts strained father/son relationships (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Edward Scissorhands). Burton’s penchant for misunderstood characters comes through in this film with the blending of fact and fiction in Ed Bloom’s tales, the “Siamese” twins Ping and Jing and Karl the Giant come to mind. We, however, learn the truth behind these colorful characters in the end. But, Ed Bloom himself is one of those misunderstood characters. Ed is seen through the various stages of his life through his stories. Burton also uses his usual musical collaboration with Danny Elfman for the soundtrack. Helena Bonham Carter plays not one character but three in this film, another one of Burton’s usual suspects as well as a very talented actress.
Burton uses flashback well when Ed Bloom is telling the story of his life. He also uses camera angle to the film’s advantage. One instance is the first time we hear about Karl the Giant. The shot from inside the barn wall looking out piques the interest to want to know what made the hole, then the cut to the front as they stand in dismay over a large human shaped hole is the answer. It made the audience say “What the …?” Then “Oh my.”
This film fits into Burton’s personal life very well, strained relationship with his father and the desire to leave the house. This is probably the closest storyline to his life that the world will ever see. He may pick films with this theme on purpose but it is highly unlikely since he claims to be a very private person. It has been debated that this film may have begun some sort of commercialization of Tim Burton. He went on to Disney films like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland, Frankenweenie, and the mixed reviews cult film Dark Shadows. But yet, he still has a knack for the odd characters like Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.