Frankenweenie: The Ultimate Tim Burton Passion Project?
According to Tim Burton lore, Frankenweenie, the live action short he made for Disney back in 1984, was intended to be a stop motion animation film. Nearly 30 years later, that original vision has come to life with the feature-length Frankenweenie, out this Friday.
Liz Ohanesian From the Frankenweenie exhibition at California Adventure
Buzz has been surrounding the film for quite some time now. Last year, L.A. fans had the chance to catch an early glimpse of the work when the Tim Burton exhibit hit LACMA. Right now, puppets from the film are on display at a Frankenweenie exhibition inside California Adventure.
The hoopla surrounding Frankenweenie is deserved, at least on paper. As the first feature film to incorporate stop motion animation and black-and-white 3D, it is a massive experiment. It's also the first animation film that Burton directed specifically for Disney. On top of that, both the story -- about a boy named Victor who resurrects his dog, Sparky, from the dead -- and the artistic approach encapsulates everything that has made Burton a cult hero to so many over his decades-long career. But, more than that, Frankenweenie is a grand passion project for both Burton and the team that has come together over the course of a number of his films.
There's a theme running throughout Frankenweenie that goes far beyond the events in the film. It's the passion projects -- the ones you love so dearly that you can't let go of them, even when it feels like all is lost -- that succeed. Mr. Rzykruski, young Victor's science teacher, says this explicitly in the film in relation to experiments, but the sentiment is something that many adults watching Frankenweenie will know too well, regardless of their field. "I love that theme about this, that you have to love it into existence," says executive producer Don Hahn.
Is love the magic ingredient for filmmaking? Are the projects for which filmmakers are most passionate the ones that succeed? I posed the question to Burton during a panel session at a recent Frankenweenie press day at the California Grand Hotel.
"Whether a film turns out well or not doesn't really doesn't have much to do with..." he answers before drifting into a new sentence. "You go into everything with that feeling that passion."
He concedes, though, that some projects are more "personal" than others. Undoubtedly, Burton's personal ties to the source material for Frankenweenie are strong. It is, after all, a Burton film based on a Burton film.
The theme of passion projects can be in part credited to screenwriter John August, a long-time collaborator of Burton's who was also responsible for the screenplays for Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Corpse Bride. "I did my little Snoopy dance when Tim called," says August of getting the Frankenweenie gig.
The story was quite different from anything August had previously done with Burton. "When I first handed it in, I worried that it was too simple. It was so straightforward," he says of the screenplay. As it turns out, Frankenweenie is only superficially simple. The "boy and his dog" story ultimately expands into a whole world filled with varying themes and lessons, of which the idea of the passion project is one. "We can get to those other moments because we had this simple, sweet story at its core," August explains.
Up next: Why did the new Frankenweenie happen in the first place?