Tim Burton’s new film, FRANKENWEENIE, opens this Friday. For those who don’t know, the film is a black-and-white, stop-motion animated, feature-length adaptation of his short film from 1984 of the same name, being distributed by Walt Disney Pictures.
The original FRANKENWEENIE was also produced for Disney while Burton was working in their animation department in the early ’80s.
Burton told Shock Till You Drop that for the new adaptation, he wasn’t interested in simply revisiting the original short film. “Yeah, basically, it was a few different things like going back to my original drawings and doing stop motion. Black and white stop motion. It wasn’t a good idea to just go back and revisit it. Because it was a memory piece in a way, there were other memories about kids in school and sort of archetypes there. The texture of Burbank [California] and the teachers, other monsters and things that have stirred in my mind for a few years. So, that and the idea of doing it stop motion, the idea of bringing a dead thing to life which is stop motion, just seemed to make it a whole new project for me.“
John August has written the screenplay for the adaptation, marking the fifth time he and Burton have worked together since BIG FISH in 2003. Burton approached August with the models of HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN and HOUSE OF DRACULA, along with his memories from school. “I tried to use my memories of other kids in school , this type of kid, that type of kid and so that’s what we talked about. Delving back into those memories,“ Burton said.
Tim Burton has worked a number of times with stop-motion animation on feature-length projects, but says that the process hasn’t changed all that much. “It’s gotten technically easier in a sense to do rig removal and you can re-time shots. The technology has made it a little easier, but at the root of it, it is what it is. Stop motion animators are a unique breed of people – they’re in a dark room all day moving things one frame at a time.“
With the problems filmmakers face when bringing “edgier” material to animation, it’s surprising that FRANKENWEENIE even got made. Recently, some speculated that Henry Selick’s project, Laika, which was in development at Disney, was cancelled for having too dark of a tone; but Burton says that the low budget on his project helped: “… (having a lower budget) does help. It takes the focus off of you a little bit. But I think they understood the root of it. It’s about a boy and his dog. That’s the heart of it and there are moments like the dog getting hit by a car, but ultimately the story is quite positive.“ But while Disney is generally regarded as an escapist brand, and recently known for such light-hearted affairs as TANGLED, BOLT and CHICKEN LITTLE, Burton thinks that the famous studio is much darker than people remember. “The thing I’m always amazed at, if you look at Disney movies from the beginning of time, they all had a sense of darkness in them. SNOW WHITE and THE LION KING. The father gets killed, the guy gets killed, someone wants to kill the kid. [laughs] And that was rated G. People tend to forget the darkness of Disney films.“
Burton also had something to say about the the rewards of the physical process of stop-motion animation and the affordances of the black-and-white format: “And that’s the great thing about the process. It takes a while so you’re living with it for a long time. It’s just building it shot by and shot. Also, I just love black and white and we tried to go for it so the photography was emotional. Computers are great, but to see the characters move through actual shadows and reflections, it just made it special. With all of the things people see on the Internet, people, well, I’m sure they’re still wary about black and white, but they see so many things now they’re used to all kinds of formats.“
It’s great to see how personal this film is to Tim Burton and how uncompromised his vision has been. Who’s going to see it?