View image Attend the pale and Teeny Todd. He doesn't exactly cut an imposing figure. Jack Skellington with a thicker head of hair.
"Tim Burton has made a miniaturist 'Sweeney Todd.' Wispy, anemic, paper-thin, sanitized. Petit Guignol. Teeny Todd..."
Those were among the first notes to myself that I typed after returning from a December screening of "Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street." Before that, it had seemed to me that Tim Burton (the Tim Burton of "Batman" and "Batman Returns," not "Mars Attacks!" or "Nightmare Before Christmas") might be, hypothetically, an ideal choice to make a film of Stephen Sondheim's musical-thriller masterpiece about a vengeful barber who conspires with a randy pie-shop proprietress to bake his victims into meat pies. Surely Burton would make it his own, a movie that wouldn't have to compete with the stage version because it would be a Tim Burton Film, existing in parallel to, but apart from, Sondheim and Harold Prince's achievement.¹
Not quite. It's one thing to Devoid of passion, grandeur, ghastly humor and operatic lunacy, Burton's "Sweeney Todd" is a plastic wind-up toy, a fast-food tie-in trinket. It belongs on a little gingerbread tchotchke shelf, next to your collectible "Macbeth" action-figurines. The best that can be said for it is that nobody's yet adapted the title property for film, so maybe that's something we can still look forward to.²
Sondheim himself has done a fine job of explaining why the filmmakers made the choices they did in bringing this "Sweeney" to the screen (New York Times: "Sondheim Dismembers 'Sweeney' .") And they're all perfectly good reasons. I understand the difficult choices that had to be made. How do you squeeze the show into less two hours? Slash some numbers, condense others, speed up the tempos. Do the performances (and the voices) have to be as strong and idiosyncratic for film as they do on stage? Not necessarily....