While many cinematic title sequences suffer from a sense of auto-pilot, the main title for Cirque du Freak keeps you guessing. Taking on the thrust of a children’s nightmare, the resulting aesthetic is innocent but deftly tuned with motifs of fear—a surefire way to take the edge off the sweetness.
Borrowed from themes developed by the film’s director, Paul Weitz, the typography serves a dual purpose in providing information, while also being extensions of the puppets themselves. By redrawing original woodcut lettering, the typeface takes inspiration from lithographic circus banners, and as a narrative device, leads the children along an ominous journey. Cracked from the vault of graphic design, inspiration for the letterforms where drawn from the stylistic sentiments of Dada, shadow puppetry and German Expressionism.
The result is decorative but highly engaging, with an undercurrent of darkness and grit à la Tim Burton. Even so, similar themes are vested in the main-on-end titles for Lemony Snickets A Series of Unfortunate Events, and in this piece, a renewed bond between Hollywood horror and the big, fat orchestral score. Through a string of slick transitions, the entire sequence strides forward with a sense of athletic perseverance resolving in moments of compositional clarity.