Frankenweenie, from director Tim Burton and screenwriter John August, is a charming, macabre and heartwarming tale, about Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan), a young boy who, after unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky, harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life, but quickly faces unintended and sometimes monstrous consequences for his actions. The voice cast also includes Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder and Atticus Shaffer.
At the film’s press junket, in a suite at the Grand Californian Hotel at Disneyland, Tim Burton spoke to Collider for this exclusive interview about when he started to revisit his original Frankenweenie drawings, why he wanted to revisit this story when he’s never had any interest before, what the black-and-white stop-motion in 3D added to the film, why his childhood experience with his first dog was so intense, who encouraged the sense of experimentation and imagination in him, and that the medium of stop-motion animation doesn’t really allow for many deleted scenes. He also talked about how and when he’ll decide what he’s going to do next, how he’s never even had a tinge of regret about anything he’s turned down, over the years, and that he avoids reading reviews of his films. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Collider: How long ago did you start to revisit your original Frankenweenie drawings and decide to give the story another go?
TIM BURTON: I don’t really know because these things always take a long time to get going. It might have been around the time when the MOMA people came to me and said, “Do you want to do a show?” Through that, I started looking at stuff that they were looking at, and I revisited it. Maybe it was around then. And loving stop-motion, I wanted to get more of the spirit of the drawings. Over the years, because it was such a memory piece, I started thinking about other kids I remember from school. So, I tried to just put all of that in with the monster movies. The stop-motion, black and white in 3D, with all of the other characters, just made it feel like a whole new project for me.
Had you ever thought about any past projects before, or was it just this?
BURTON: It was just this. It’s such a memory piece, in the sense that it went back to that time with your dog. And then, I really thought about the architecture and wanted to go much more Burbank. I wanted to go back to the different types of kids in school and the different teachers, and the way kids deal with each other. With the whole environment, I tried to link everything to something that was a real memory or person or feeling. In that respect, this is a pretty unique project, in that way. I don’t think of the other ones quite like that.
Did you realize how much this felt like a magical fable that could connect with everybody?
BURTON: For me, it was intense, and I’m sure other people have had that experience. Especially when you’re a kid, it’s that first relationship. If you have a pet that you really relate to, it’s unconditional love, and it’s just so pure and strong and memorable that it stays with you. Also, there was the added element of that, with me, because the dog had this thing called distemper, where they said it wasn’t going to live for very long. I had this intense relationship with this specter of death looming over it, and I didn’t really understand that. It’s your first experience with those themes. And then, there were the monster movies, and the Frankenstein wish fulfillment of keeping something alive. Those two things actually felt very similar. You could always relate those monster movies to your own life. The neighbors were the angry villagers and you’re Frankenstein. I always found it quite easy to relate the feelings you got from those films to my real life. In that respect, it was very personal and strong. I think some people have probably had that experience, where they’ve had that connection with a pet.
Whether it’s with science, like in this film, or with art, in general, there seems to be a fear of experimentation, which also somewhat limits imagination. Who was it that most instilled and encouraged that sense of experimentation and imagination in you?
BURTON: I always hated when people would try to suppress you or categorize you. The idea of science or art or creative thinking should be embraced. I had one or two teachers, in my whole life, that tried to inspire me, and that makes a whole giant difference. You go through your whole school life and you don’t get that. That’s why some kid hates school, or whatever. If you have a teacher that just tries to see you for who you are and lets that flourish, it changes your life, but that was very rare. As much as I wanted to fit into the structure of it, I couldn’t. I had one or two teachers that tried to open up the channels for me, and that’s huge and rare. If you asked most people, they’d probably say that, if you’re lucky, you had one or two teachers that inspired you. That’s it. But, that’s not good odds, is it? Unless you resist it, most people get beaten into lying with it. So, that definitely was something that was on my mind with this, for sure.
Does this kind of medium allow for any deleted scenes, or do you pretty much have to use what you shoot?
BURTON: Yeah. With something like this, I wouldn’t even call it deleted scenes. There are a couple of deleted shots, and we trimmed down some shots. There are a certain amount of shots you have to go back and redo, just because they’re not working. But, what you can do now is re-time things a little bit, in order to tighten up timings, if you want. There are things you can do, once a shot has been done. But, for the most part, the shot is the shot. We were pretty lucky that a very small percentage of shots had to be redone. That’s quite amazing, given what the technique is.
Now that you’ve finished Frankenweenie and it’s opening in theaters, how and when will you decide what it is that you want to do next? Do you have to get away from it for a bit first?
BURTON: Yeah, I do. For me, I’m still thinking about [Frankenweenie] and talking about it. It’s hard to have things lined up because you have to exorcize the demons from your body before you can move on to the next thing. I think you have to see it purely. Whatever that next thing is, it has to be like, “Okay, that’s over with. Now, how do you feel?” Especially now, I’m a bit burnt out, so I’m going to wait.
Are there any projects that you were offered, over the years, that you regret turning down?
BURTON: No, I try not to have real regrets. I’m trying to think of anything, where I’ve had even a tinge of anything, but nothing really comes to my mind. I think it’s because I really try not to ever regret anything. When somebody says, “If you could go back and redo something, what would it be?,” I go, “Well, I don’t even know if I would do that because it is what it is.” Some things were more successful than others, but even that is a funny one. Sometimes you can have a movie where everybody that you talked to loved it, but it’s a bomb. Sometimes you can have a movie that everybody hates, and it makes a lot of money. It’s a strange dynamic. So, I try to never really regret anything.
Do you avoid reading reviews then?
BURTON: Yes, I do. I kind of know what’s going on, but I can’t read them because it drives me crazy.
Frankenweenie opens in theaters on October 5th.