Are you familiar with this story? No, I’m not talking about the German fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel. I’m referring to how Tim Burton was fired from Disney. Burton was let go after making his 1984 short Frankenweenie, a film they deemed too dark for kids and a waste of the studio’s money. Burton has of course come back to Disney to make several films, including a feature length animated version of Frankenweenie. If Burton's modern-day suburban retelling of Frankenstein was “too scary for kids,” it’s amazing that Burton didn’t get fired the year before for his bizarre and disturbing version of Hansel and Gretel.
This lost Halloween special directed by Burton aired only once in 1983 on The Disney Channel. If you at least watch the first 5 min of this, you’ll agree; once is enough. We’ve come to recognize (and perhaps even grow tired of) Burton’s now signature style. We know the director can create dazzling and twisted worlds for his big-budget blockbusters, but what would he do with almost no budget? This film is proof that he’d still attempt to “reinvent” the crap out of well-known stories.
The classic fairy tale remains mostly intact, but the sets are literally paper and the cast is entirely Asian — the stepmother and witch are played by the same male actor as well. As an Asian-American, I was getting ready to applaud the “yellow washing” of the cast, that is, until they whipped out the candy cane nunchucks and edible ninja stars… for reals, they’re in there. Whether you can make it through all 34 minutes of this film or not, it’s still interesting to see Burton’s early inclinations as a designer and storyteller.