The Story Behind Danny Elfman, Composer for ‘Batman’ and ‘Beetlejuice’

Performances and Artists

Donato Cabrera conducting the Las Vegas Philharmonic


Composer Danny Elfman’s life story sounds almost as fantastic as the films he scores.

He unleashed his creativity in the ‘80s with his new-wave band Oingo Boingo, hailed for its wildly experimental and genre-defying tunes spanning ska, world music and rock.

His quirky inventiveness caught the attention of emerging film director Tim Burton, who took a chance and tapped Elfman to compose the score for Burton’s first feature film, “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure.”

The resulting zany, whimsical score sparked the beginning of a 30-year collaboration between the pair.

Elfman has since composed the now-iconic soundtracks for Burton’s many blockbusters, including “Batman,” “Men in Black” and “Beetlejuice.”

“To go from the frontman of one of the more progressive and interesting bands of all time, and make the transition into scoring some of the most popular movies of all time, that in itself is a huge accomplishment,” says Donato Cabrera, music director of the Las Vegas Philharmonic.

That’s why the philharmonic will perform many highlights of Elfman’s career on November 2, focusing on the thrilling scores he has penned for Burton films such as “Batman,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Beetlejuice” and “Edward Scissorhands.”

“I’m excited for the same reasons I’m excited about performing the music of John Williams,” Cabrera says. “It generates such enthusiasm for live music.”


A Composer Like No Other

Like his fearless approach with Oingo Boingo, Elfman’s film scores often cross into unusual musical territory, especially the dark, eerie and fantastical.

This includes the Grammy-nominated “Batman,” prominent for its romantic, gothic orchestrations, and the delicate, fairy-tale themes of “Edward Scissorhands.” Many of Elfman’s other scores, such as “Men in Black,” boast a quirky and frenetic musicality.

Cabrera especially looks forward to performing music from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (in which Elfman actually voiced the lead character), which marries uplifting and discordant melodies.

“I just think it’s one of the great movie musicals,” Cabrera says. “Everything worked together so well, the singing, the animation, and it’s a very unique story. As a whole package, ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ is one of those great Hollywood creations.”


You Know Him Better Than You Realize

Elfman’s work with Burton marks just a fraction of his composing career.

Elfman has penned scores for nearly 50 films, including “Spiderman,” “Good Will Hunting” and “Dolores Claiborne.”

He also created the giddy theme songs for famous television shows such as “The Simpsons” and “Desperate Housewives.”

Even Cabrera felt surprised in his research of Elfman’s prolific work.

“Just last year there were five movies he scored for. It goes on and on,” Cabrera says. “Danny Elfman is one of those composers who we just know… But we don’t even know that we know.”