I speak with Tim Burton and some of his colleagues about the personal quality that makes Frankenweenie so special in my latest TOH/Indiewire column. Is the best animated feature Oscar Burton’s to lose? We’ll see as the race heats up with two more tantalizing retro movies yet to come: Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph (Nov. 2) and DreamWorks’ Rise of the Guardians (Nov. 21).
It’s as though his entire ethos is encapsulated in this heartwarming yet cautionary tale of a boy and his dog. And what better way to evoke the “Frankenstein” myth than in stop-motion? The inanimate puppets themselves are stitched together and brought to life like the misunderstood social misfits from the Universal gallery of iconic monsters that Burton closely identified with in adolescence. And of course it had to be in black and white and in 3-D.
“Being an animator back then, doing live-action, was really fun and exciting and got me into a whole other world, which was great,” Burton suggests. “But over the years, loving stop-motion and looking over the original drawings, it also became a memory piece, thinking about other aspects of that time: remembering all the kids and teachers and even down to the architecture of Burbank. So the idea of going through the original drawings, expanding the monsters as a sort of “House of Frankenstein” motif in black and white and 3-D, made it feel like a whole different project even though the heart of it and the root of it stayed the same.”
Burton adds that he didn’t want to get too specific with his monster references: “It was all about the feeling of it so I tried to make sure you didn’t have to know every reference to still enjoy it I tried to keep it on the emotional level and basically about a boy and his dog so those elements are just part of the flavor of it as opposed to the overriding factor.”
At the same time, seeing his favorite Universal monster movies again recently in HD reconfirmed his original association with his childhood heroes: “It was interesting because the high-def almost brought it back to that weird reality — the crispness you remember as a child — so it strangely brought back that kind of experience. The movies are quite modern, not in their slow pacing, but they still have an amazing reality to them. So they don’t lose their impact — you realize why you liked them to begin with.”