Tim Burton was apparently surprised and unaware of some of the items that are currently on display at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne. It’s easy to see why. With more than 700 works comprising the exhibition, they go a long way to displaying the unique nature, talent and randomness that the man himself doesn’t seem to fully understand. Many of them seem to have been drawn by someone who wasn’t completely aware that he was drawing at the time, and show an imagination so bizarre that it doesn’t seem to work with rhyme nor reason.

I joined the throng of people standing in line on a cold Melbourne Sunday, waiting to buy tickets — for a show that’s been open since June, this is quite an achievement. I was armed with a passing familiarity for Tim Burton’s work — I admire what he did with Batman, fondly enjoy Beetle Juice, can appreciate what he was aiming for with Alice in Wonderland, and find myself acutely missing Gene Wilder in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Once you wander downstairs and pass the awesomeness that is the batmobile, the exhibition begins with some fairly low-key fare — school assignments, early drawings and letters. But as it moves on from his teenage years you begin to see some more familiar styles, until finally the full Burton is unleashed.

Burton’s artistic style shows such a different reality to ours, and it’s no wonder that he found himself struggling in the vanilla constructs of his early employment with Disney. It’s once he gets out on his own that he’s truly been able to flourish and explore strange worlds, bring it to life in different mediums, and embrace an endless fascination with Johnny Depp.

This is an exhibition that is worth seeing, and depending on how inclined you are, even worth travelling to Melbourne for. Heck, you can even make a day of it — not only will the exhibition keep you amused for hours but ACMI holds a variety of accompanying relevant talks and film showings at decent prices. Who wouldn’t be willing to part with six bucks to see Jack Nicholson strut his stuff as the Joker on the big screen again?

Over 100,000 people have passed through ACMI to take in Tim Burton’s talent. I’d be surprised if any of them went away uninspired.

The details: Tim Burton: The Exhibition is at ACMI at Federation Square, Melbourne, until October 10. Tickets are available at the door or through the ACMI website.

*Matt Smith teaches media studies at La Trobe University and blogs at The End of the Spectrum