Tim Burton Designing a Balloon for Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade
Growing up, it was a tradition in our house to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade while mom got the turkey in the oven, but as my tastes turned to the horror side of the fence, interest in the annual event waned. This year, however, there's a new entrant designing a balloon who promises to bring a bit of spooky to the show: the one and only Tim Burton!
Per The New York Times next month the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will feature a new balloon designed by Tim Burton, the artist and filmmaker who has brought a Gothic sensibility to movies like Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands as well as his adaptations of Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland, and the upcoming Dark Shadows.
“It’s such a surprise to be asked, and it was great,” Burton told the Times in a telephone interview from London. “It’s such a surreal thing that you don’t even believe what you’re hearing. Somebody’s trying to play a joke on you or something. It had that kind of feeling.”
His contribution to the November 24th parade is a character called B. Boy (or B. for short). According to an origin story dreamed up by Burton, B. was created, Frankenstein’s monster-style, from the leftover balloons used in children’s parties at the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London. Forbidden from playing with other children because of his jagged teeth and crazy-quilt stitching, B. retreated to a basement lair, where he obsesses over Albert Lamorisse’s film The Red Balloonand dreams that he, too, will be able to fly someday.
“There’s always been something about balloons,” Burton said, by way of explaining his B. Boy character. “You see them deflated, and you see them floating. There’s something quite beautiful and tragic and sad and buoyant and happy, all at the same time.”
For the team behind the Macy’s parade, Burton's involvement is its own form of wish fulfillment. His name has long been at the top of a most-wanted list for their Blue Sky Gallery series of balloons, which was introduced in 2005 to fill the sky with recreations of famous works by some of the world's most renowned modern artists. This past spring Bill Schermerhorn, the longtime creative director of the Macy’s parade, and John Piper, the vice president of Macy’s parade studio, met with Burton in Britain and showed him some illustrations created by Tony Sarg, the puppeteer and artist who designed the balloons used in the earliest Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parades in the 1920s and ’30s, which seemed to align with Mr. Burton’s tastes.
“Let’s face it,” Schermerhorn said, “some of that art is a little scary. There’s dragons and things with big teeth, and I think Tim related to that. The only guideline we gave him is: Try to stay away from something skinny and pointy.”
Burton, who complied with a design for B. that was more or less round (and thus more likely to defy gravity without too many complications), compared the balloon’s creation to his work in animation, which often requires much back and forth between creative teams. The experience also evoked for him a scene from his 1989 Batman film, in which the villainous Joker takes to the streets of Gotham City with a garish parody of a Thanksgiving parade, though it was unclear if the Macy’s executives knew about this scene when they tapped Burton for the gig.
“I didn’t bring it up with them,” Burton said with an impish laugh. “It wasn’t really on my mind when we were talking. It sort of hit me later.”
Compared to the bright, cheerful figures who typically populate the parade, the Macy’s staff recognizes that B. Boy, with his moody color scheme and visible scars, is about as close as it can come to pushing the envelope. “Maybe we’re stepping into the dark side here,” said Amy Kule, the parade’s executive producer, “but Tim’s balloon, although Gothic, is really fun in spirit, and nobody should be worried that it’s going to be scary or should be part of a nighttime parade rather than a daytime parade. We’re pretty cognizant about what we put in the air, and this balloon deserves to be up there with all the others.”
Nor did Mr. Burton see his involvement in the parade as being particularly transgressive. “I’ve always felt like my stuff was never that weird or subversive, but that’s just me thinking that,” he said. “For me it’s pretty natural. Maybe for others it might not be so much.”
As for whether or not Burton will be marching in the parade himself, he stated, “I’ll probably be hiding somewhere in a building. That’s why I’m not an actor – I’m more a stay-behind-the-camera kind of a person. My marching band days are over. I did that way back when, and I was pretty bad at it then so leave it to the experts.”
Still, Burton was glad to have a work that he and his partner, the actress Helena Bonham Carter, could share with their two young children, whom they are raising in Britain. “In England they don’t really know about it,” he said of the Macy’s parade. “Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July are days of mourning in this country. They don’t pay attention to those things.”
For more info on the parade itself, which airs on NBC Thanksgiving Day, November 24th, from 9:00 am-12 noon ET, visit the official Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade website.
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