Tim Burton: “It’s not about bringing dead things back to life – I find that quite creepy.”
Tim Burton’s upcoming film Frankenweenie is a remarkable return to form for the lauded cult director. With Winona Ryder, Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara lending their voices to Burton’s new 3D, black and white, stop-motion animation film, Frankenweenie charts the heartwarming (though typically offbeat) story of a misfit boy Victor and his loveable pet dog Sparky. The action of the film centers around Sparky’s death and subsequent resurrection by Victor – a storyline that unambiguously appropriates Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
The film is Burton’s most personal to date, as reflected in the many references to his favourite classic horror films, filmmakers and the odd subtle reference to his own previous work.
Frankenweenie opened the London Film Festival where Burton and partner Helena Bonham Carter were honored with the British Film Institute Fellowship, which recognises outstanding contribution to film or television culture. TheVine attended the press conference and Burton, predictably, had some thoughts on his upcoming release.
Frankenweenie is a film you’ve come back to, because you first made it as a live-action (due to budget restraints) short film in 1984. Now you’ve come back to it almost thirty years later. What made you want to revisit Frankenweenie?
It was from looking at some of the original drawings, and also I think at some point Don [Hahn, Executive Producer] had mentioned the idea. And for me doing black and white stop motion in 3D was an exciting prospect, and also being able to work with all the people I’ve worked with in the past, it just made it more special.
Legend has it that you were fired from Disney, when you worked there in your 20s, and I’m wondering if you can comment on that?
Well you know it wasn’t like The Apprentice “You’re Fired!”, it was a bit more Disney-friendly, it was like “here let Goofy and Mini show you the nice exit with little cherubs on it through the magic forest door.”
It was a strange period in the company’s history, it’s obviously changed over the years. And you know it was a low-point for animation at that time, not just for Disney but for everything, nothing was really going on but at the same time I had the opportunity to do the films. Even though they weren’t released, I had the opportunity to do them and I’ve always been grateful for that.
Are you surprised that your films have become part of mainstream cinema?
I’m not so sure that’s true.
What has it been like meeting heroes you grew up watching, like Martin Landau (who voices Vincent Price-looking character Mr Ryzkruski in Frankenweenie) and Vincent Price?
Well it’s so inspirational. I’ve told Martin, who worked with Alfred Hitchcock on Space: 1999, that I used to have a Space: 1999 lunch box. (laughs)
If you love making films, meeting these people is just such a joy. In terms of Catherine (O’Hara) and Martin (Short) here [at the press conference], I mean I’ve been a fan of theirs forever, and that’s why I said guys ‘play as many characters as you like, you can play three characters!’. It wasn’t because we didn’t want to pay other actors, it’s because they’re so great. Working with people that I’ve worked with in the past is what has made this project very special for me.
[A young journalist, about eight years old asks:] I really enjoyed the film. Most films I watch are in colour and this one was in black and white, which made me more interested. Were there any other things you wanted to do to make this film different?
You know what, you’re right about the black and white. It was a crucial element that is hard to put into words, but for me it made it more emotional. The idea of seeing black and white and the 3D element for me really showed you all the work that the artists put in; black and white really shows off their work really well.
How much of the film would you say is attributed to the horror genre and also about trying to open it up to a younger generation of viewers, who may not get the references to Gremlins, Dracula…
Well, it’s an interesting point. I mean there’s obviously a lot of references, but we thought very hard throughout the film that I didn’t want to make it reference-dependent. We tried to shoot it and make it feel like one of those movies, so you can feel what those type of movies were like even if you didn’t know the reference. And we felt that you should be able to enjoy the movie even if you don’t know the reference.
We’ve recently seen 3D stop-motion comedy horror film ParaNorman and computer-animated comedy Hotel Transylvania come out this year, and I’m wondering if you had any thoughts on why family-animations are going so dark, or is it a coincidence?
See, I don’t find Frankenweenie dark. It’s so funny, from the very beginning all of my films have been labeled as ‘dark’, but I’ve never ever felt that way.
Death seems to play a permanent role in your stop motions (including Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas). What’s your fascination with bringing characters back to life?
When I was a kid I always wanted to be a mad scientist. I don’t know why but a regular scientist just seemed like no fun. It’s not so much about bringing dead things back to life; I find that quite creepy actually. It’s more about creating, creation, and making things and I think that’s why I always loved the Frankenstein story because it’s partially about making things and creation. And, that’s what filmmaking is and that’s what stop motion is, and that’s the fun of it and that’s why I like doing it.