Tim Burton: A Return to Frankenweenie

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On the 10th of October GUM were asked to fly down to the heart of London to see the film that would kick off the acclaimed London Film Festival, the 56th year the British Film Institute have thrown the city into movie-mania.

That film was Tim Burtons new 3D stop-motion masterpiece Frankenweenie, a story about a boy and his dog taken to macabre heights by the ex- Disney animators’ notoriously bizarre mind. Heavily based, as the title might suggest, on Mary Shelley’s classic gothic novel Frankenstein, it’s modern animated counterpart is a surprising return to the early days of Burton and his 1984 short of the same title. It is interesting to see how the world has changed that Disney are now wholeheartedly endorsing the flick after sacking Burton for the same unconventional animations over twenty years ago.

For those of us who grew up on a staple of The Nightmare Before Christmas, and more recently the likes of Corpse Bride, will not be strangers to the wonders of stop motion animation- but to see it in 3D and in black and white was a new experience altogether. The films plot rotates around Victor, a young, gaunt boy in typical tortured Burton fashion, and his dog Sparky who gets hit by a car and then resurrected by his stricken owner. With the film being cited as a ‘labour of love” with the director working closely with people of his past, such as Winona Ryder and Caherine O’Hara, as well as long-time musical partner Danny Elfman, the film hits a personal chord any Burton aficionado would be proud of.

With a “traveling road show” of actual sets from the film and an Animators Masterclass after the Press Conference (Burton is just how you’d expect him, wild haired and full of impersonations with madly gesticulating hands) the highlight of the film was indeed expounded to be the talent of the animators.

Stop Motion animation, for those of you not in the know, is the painstaking method of animation using puppets where each limb has to be moved by a miniscule amount for every frame. Over 33 animators were working for two years to produce the film, manipulating over 200 puppets- 18 Victors and 33 Sparkies alone- not forgetting a host of different characters and props (tiny crafted clogs on a stall that are only on camera for less than a second?) it is a magnificent feat if nothing else.

Although Winona was nowhere in site for the press conference, the camaraderie between the creators of Frankenweenie was something to behold, especially between Burton and his long time mentor Martin Landau, who plays an imposing school science teacher modeled on Vincent Price (anyone who’s seen Edward Scissorhands will have seen his wonderful cameo as the creator himself).  Unsurprisingly Burton describes working on Frankenweenie as coming back home.

Ultimately Burton and his team have created a wonderful animated film that will open up the next generation not only to the pleasures of old-school animation, but also the Horror genre in general. References to Frankenstein aside, there were actual clips of the cult horror film Dracula (1931) in a very meta moment when the audience watched puppeteered characters watching the film.

However, one has to ask what is a children’s animators fascination with death and darkness?
“I don’t think Frankenweenie is dark” counters Burton “and I actually find the thought of bringing dead things back to life quite creepy, what fascinates me is creation.” Perhaps that was what initially drew Burton to the tale of Frankenstein- more than it’s gruesomeness,  rather it’s endeavours to create.

Words: Alexandra Embiricos


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