Burton finally unleases ‘Frankenweenie’ as intended

Tim Lammers
Posted 10/4/12

Twenty-eight years after the completion of his original live-action short film of the same name, iconic director Tim Burton’s is thrilled that …

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Burton finally unleases ‘Frankenweenie’ as intended


Twenty-eight years after the completion of his original live-action short film of the same name, iconic director Tim Burton’s is thrilled that he’s getting the chance to unleash his pet project, the stop-motion animated version of “Frankenweenie.”

In a recent interview, Burton told me his reincarnated version of “Frankenweenie” — about a boy named Victor Frankenstein who brings his dead dog back to life via some creative stitchery and powerful lightning bolts — not only revives the heart of the original tale (or is it tail?), but expands his original idea.

The funny thing is, the narrative wasn’t born out of something Burton had written, but rather from characters and settings that came to life through his artwork.

“The movie goes back to the original drawings. I was happy and loved doing the live-action film, which was great because it shaped my career in some ways,” Burton told me. “But the idea of going back to the drawings was important to me. Also, it allowed me to explore it in stop-motion, and black and white, which captured the feeling of it.”

Most exciting to Burton is that the new film expands its classic monster-movie motif.

“If the original ‘Frankenweenie’ was like ‘Frankenstein,’ then the new ‘Frankenweenie’ is like ‘The House of Frankenstein.’ There are other kids and other monsters in it. It provides a mix like you had in those movies, like when Frankenstein meets the Wolfman,” Burton explained. “It’s like when all the characters are thrown together, like ‘Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.’ It was fun to expand on things that way, but still keep the essence of the story.”

Of course, Burton knew that if he were truly to capture the feeling of those films, one critical element had to be addressed with the studio producing it: the film’s color, or more specifically, the lack thereof.

Luckily for Burton, the studio was Disney, which in 1984 produced the “Frankenweenie” film short, and most recently released his 2010 blockbuster “Alice in Wonderland.”

“It was so nice to do it in black and white because it was one of the final issues for me,” Burton said. “If somebody had said, ‘You can do the movie, but you have to do it in color,’ I wouldn’t have done that. I was lucky there was no real resistance to it. In fact, it was positive.”

New in 2D and 3D theaters and on IMAX screens Friday, “Frankenweenie,” stars the voices of Burton movie veterans Winona Ryder, Martin Landau, Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara, as well as Charlie Tahan as Victor and Atticus Shaffer as his creepy friend, Edgar E. Gore.

A movie with heart

“Frankenweenie” is a very personal film for Burton, and that’s mostly reflected in the film’s suburban California setting. Of course, since the film is fantastical in nature, it’s not entirely autobiographical, but there are several elements in it from his childhood in Burbank.

“It was a real memory piece in the sense that everything was based on someone or something, or remembering a certain kind of kid in school or teacher or place,” Burton, 54, recalled for me. “Pretty much everything was run through the idea of those memories.”

Also true was that Burton had a dog that he loved and lost, a strong emotional feeling to which most audience members will be able to relate, no matter what type of pet they had as a child or as an adult.

“That’s what the film’s initial impulses were based on, going back to the root of what it was all about, which is the first relationship with a pet that is so powerful and so strong,” Burton said. “It’s such a unique kind of thing. It was the first experience I had with death, except for seeing it in movies.”

Happily, for the purposes of the story, Sparky — Victor’s dog in “Frankenweenie” — is brought back to life a la “Frankenstein” author Mary Shelly’s monstrous methods. But things go haywire when Victor’s secret gets out to his classmates, who revive their own late pets with disastrous results.

Without question, “Frankenweenie” is Tim Burton’s definitive monster movie, presented in glorious black and white, and accented with shadows and light. In the end, the filmmaker couldn’t be any more grateful to have had the opportunity to recapture the atmosphere of the days when the names Karloff, Lugosi and Chaney lit up the marquees.

“To be able to have those monsters in black and white made it feel like I was going back in time,” Burton said. “I was making the things that inspired me.”

Tim Lammers is a syndicated movie reporter whose work appears on dozens of news and entertainment websites across the country. You can see Tim’s work on his website, StrictlyCinema.com, follow his tweets at Twitter.com/TimLammersFilms or “like” him on Facebook.com/StrictlyCinema.


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