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It’s Never Too Late for Sweeney

It's Never Too Late for Sweeney

It certainly seemed like folly. Not only was Tim Burton making a movie musical—a genre as in demand as color-plate cartoons and pseudo-scientific nudies—he was adapting a stage musical that, though long celebrated for its snarled melodies and grim theatricality, seems as out-of-place on today’s overly anthemic and anesthetized Broadway as it does beneath The Bucket List on multiplex marquees. For an operatic work with a notoriously difficult libretto, Burton not only enlisted non-singers, his casting process netted as leads his own reedy-voiced wife (Helena Bonham Carter) and ho-hum, go-to pretty-boy muse (Johnny Depp). Above all, Burton’s decision to film Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street smacked of a prolonged fixation with, and systematic co-optation of, his macabre sensibility’s source materials. From B-movies, comic books, and trading cards to Roald Dahl and Washington Irving, Burton’s become a gothic Disney, solidifying nostalgia into variations on his own image. Taking on Sweeney Todd seemed a misstep both hubristic and lazy: artistically out of his league yet squarely in his misfit wheelhouse. That it works at all is a major surprise; that it’s a very good movie is as shocking as its geysers of screen-splattering blood, and as satisfying as its potty-mouthed, Pyrrhic pathos. Click here to read Eric Hynes’s piece on Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd.

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