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‘Music Box’ mines long collaboration

Elfman, Burton collection includes tunes and illustrations

Our vote for this holiday season’s must-have, high-priced, movie-related toy is Warner Bros. Records’ “Danny Elfman & Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box,” a $500, limited-edition collection of 16 CDs, a lavishly illustrated book and assorted trinkets related to the long partnership between the composer and director of “Batman,” “Edward Scissorhands” and this year’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

Even Burton and Elfman (in a promotional video on YouTube) seem wowed by the design and size of the box, which features a working zoetrope with strips of Burton’s art and a chip that plays Elfman’s own music-box arrangement of his best-known themes. It’s like “something that someone found in a hidden attic in Edward Scissorhands’ home,” says Richard Kraft, Elfman’s longtime agent and co-executive producer of the project.

“It’s extremely weird,” says Elfman about looking back at a quarter-century of collaborations with Burton, who first asked the Oingo Boingo frontman to write the music for his first film, “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.”

“I’ve never listened to a score of mine, ever. I don’t watch the movies,” he avers, noting that revisiting all 13 feature-film scores (and other projects) to assemble the CDs was uncomfortable.

Elfman’s assistant and Kraft spent months searching through dusty, half-forgotten storage units looking for every scrap of music that Elfman wrote and found various cassettes, DATs and reels of tape “in between boxes of broken doll parts and old synthesizer equipment,” says the composer.

The result is more than seven hours of previously unreleased material, including expanded soundtracks of all the movies and even early demos of Elfman themes and songs. Whether to include those demos was a bone of contention between composer and agent.

“We found one of his first demo recordings of ‘Batman,’ and it sounds like it was recorded on a Casio,” says Kraft.

“The early demos are incredibly embarrassing,” admits Elfman, who finally relented when Kraft insisted that they were “historic documents” that would not only be treasured by fans but should be preserved as film-music history.

“It’s not like we’re talking about old sex tapes,” says Elfman. “It’s just crappy sounding demos from 1989.”

Other finds include unused songs from “Nightmare Before Christmas” and “The Corpse Bride,” and what Kraft describes as “the gem” of the unreleased music, Elfman’s unused score for the Matthew Bourne-choreographed 2005 ballet of “Edward Scissorhands.”

The 16 CDs are illustrated with Burton’s own artwork; also included is a USB drive containing all the music and an hourlong DVD in which Burton and Elfman discuss their long collaboration. Johnny Depp wrote the foreword to the 260-page book.

“It’s spectacular when you consider what they’ve accomplished as a team and the fact that they’re still reinventing the Burton-Elfman model with each project after 25 years,” says Laura Engel, Kraft’s partner and co-exec producer on the project.

Says Elfman: “I wouldn’t have a career were it not for Tim and ‘Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.’ Every one of those first six or seven films opened a new door for me, artistically and commercially. I was doing comedy, fantasy, action, romantic films, and he allowed me to try things out.”

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