Frankenweenie is easily the best Tim Burton movie in a decade. I was almost braced to dislike it, so it was a wonderful surprise to find myself concurring with Brad’s glowing review. In the film, a young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.
Accompanied by a few other journalists, I sat down with Burton last week to talk about the differences between the feature-length Frankenweenie and his 1984 short of the same name. We also discussed the film’s embrace of science and horror history.
The voice cast includes four actors who worked with Burton on previous films: Winona Ryder (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands), Catherine O’Hara (Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas), Martin Short (Mars Attacks!) and Martin Landau (Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow), while Charlie Tahan and Atticus Shaffer were later added. Over 200 puppets and sets were created for the film, and that several of the character names—Victor, Elsa Van Helsing, Edgar “E” Gore and Mr. Burgermeister — were inspired by classic horror films.
Is this film indicative of the scope that you wanted the short to have in the first place?
No. That was it at the time. It was only after many years that this version occurred. Because it’s a memory piece I started to think of other aspects of that time. Other kids, schools and teachers. And when they did that MOMA show I started looking at some of the original drawings, which black and white stop motion lent itself to. And it became this weird fun thing I wouldn’t have done with any other project. All of those elements made it it feel like a whole other thing. It’s like going from Frankenstein to House Of Frankenstein where there’s all these other monsters.
So you never considered doing it in color then.
No, I wouldn’t have. If the studio had said it had to be in color I would have not done it. It was that important to me. But they were cool about it! I was surprised and grateful. Black and white gives it an emotional depth that would have been lost in color.
One of the film’s themes is the acceptance of loss, but there’s a note at the end that spins it a bit. Did the ending change along the way?
No. Part of it is this wish fulfillment fantasy story. To be simple about it, it was always that way. It’s not like Disney held a gun to my head on the ending. That being said, the acceptance thing was always important to me. So it’s a double-edged thing.
15 years ago I couldn’t have imagined a political climate where we’d have a segment of the population arguing against science…
[Laughs] I know!
So is there a certain satisfaction you get from Martin Landau’s speeches in the film?
Sure! I love it! And I’ve talked to teachers that appreciated it as well. But I remember that even when I was young. There was always a resistance to it. Any thinking outside of the box there was a resistance to. But that resistance has grown, which is strange. On certain levels technology is running rampant, but people are freaked out about that kind of thought. So there’s a certain juxtaposition there.
How did you come to settle on the array of monsters in the film?
I picked the types of movies I grew up liking. The classic monsters, Japanese monsters, all different types. It’s all references that most people don’t know. So it’s more about delivering the flavor of them so people who don’t know those films can still enjoy this one. If you know it, fine. But I’m not expecting that from you.
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