The 80s saw him collaborate with Burton several more times in what would arguably be Burton’s most iconic production Nightmare Before Christmas. This stop motion animated tale directed by Henry Selick gave Elfman not only a chance to create a truly fantastical score with dark undertones (which would go on to be a notable style of his) but it also allowed him to perform vocals. Becoming the singing voice for the lead character Jack Skellington put Elfman both in the ears and on the screen (in some manner) and brought him to both audiences young and old.
The shadowy themes that became Tim Burton’s trademark ran into all of his films as did his perpetual composer. Defining his creepy yet playful sound in his score on Beetlejuice, Elfman not just complemented the feel and environment but elevated it with purposefully clumsy horns for comedy and unnerving high strings for the ghoulish displays. Maybe however it was 1989 when Danny Elfman became and unstoppable force as a composer. In this year he joined Burton once again to create the theme for the iconic DC villain Batman. This film unlike the others was more adult orientated and so the playful nature he had adopted from his time in Oingo Boingo was to be minimal. What he created here was one of the most memorable superhero themes to date, with a terrific and exciting build Elfman captures the noire nature of Gotham city with his dramatic strings then he throws in a melody so triumphant that audiences worldwide felt heroic. This more ‘serious’ piece pinned him to the musical map and his composition is still used to represent the hero today. This was also the same year he created the unforgettable opening theme to the ongoing animation The Simpsons, the biggest cartoon on the planet. The critics and indeed his own insecurities took a huge step back after this as he became a full time composer.
Since the 90s hit Elfman has put his hand to an incredible amount of scores, with his signature flair and enchanting melodies juxtaposed with bouncy low-end he has cultivated a significant following of fans and admirers. Winning a Grammy for his score on Edward Scissorhands, he continues to be a perfect collaborator on movies with dark, misunderstood protagonists or indeed super heroes. In 1997 he would provide the mysterious and executive sounding backing to the sci-fi film Men In Black, while a few years later he jumped the comic brand barrier and composed the soundtrack to Spider-Man.
Now well versed in the orchestra after years of composing, eventually in 2006 Elman composed his first classical symphony. This piece of six movements incorporates a full orchestra and still holds a sound that is very much Danny Elfman. It has a captivating stygian quality to its impending horn calls and moves to add haunting vocals. Further into this fantastic display of his abilities the pianos re-enter to add chaotic footsteps and strings provide an ever-changing background. No matter what he seems to do however there are elements in all of his work that sound as much like Batman, Nightmare Before Christmas and even So-Lo, this is a criticism from many but something most find impressive – as few musicians have sculpted their own sound.