For just about the entire length of Tim Burton’s career his work has shown a close association with death. With Frankenweenie in theaters this Friday he’s made two stop motion movies about people coming back from the dead. He directed two superhero movies where the lead character was motivated by the death of his parents. Sweeney Todd is about a barber who cuts people down, and Beetlejuice follows events in the afterlife. But what does Burton have to say about connections between his work and his suggested death impulse? In his words, “They’ve been killing animals for years.”
The weekend before last I had the pleasure of driving down to Disneyland where I, along with my friend Roth Cornet of Screen Rant, were given the opportunity to sit down with the Oscar-nominated filmmaker and discuss both his latest movie and his career. Check out or conversation below in which Burton talks about what made now the right time to resurrect Frankenweenie, the suggested death impulse in his work, and the value of limitations and how they’ve affected his career.
We were just saying that there is a purity and clarity in the stop motion animation, and overall aesthetic to the film, that reflects the purity and clarity in the love between a boy and his dog.
Yes, that’s what made it feel different than the short - which I loved doing and it was great to do live-action - but what I always loved about the drawings and what you can do in stop motion is that there is purity to the emotion. The black and white also added to that for me. If the studio had said to me, “Well, you can do the movie but only in color” I wouldn’t have done it because it was that important to me to impart that emotional stripping away of things so that you get that simplicity and the strength of what it’s about.
You originally intended to tell the story in stop motion, is that correct?
Well, not necessarily. My recollection of it now was that it was designed to go out with another film. Back in the old days when Disney was releasing an animated film they would do these live-action nature kinds of shorts. You know the crazy cougar comes to town or whatever. So that was what it was originally sort of designed to be. And I was happy to do it, and enjoyed doing it, but they quickly became freaked out about releasing it. Whatever, this happens.
What made now the right time to bring it back?
Well I wasn’t thinking "Okay, now is the time." It has to do with a few different things. Obviously when I did it way back then it did its thing and I went on and did other things. But it was such a memory piece for me in the sense that it was based on real emotions and real feelings and a love of certain kinds of movies and growing up in an environment. I started going back and thinking about other elements from that time in terms of like Burbank where I grew up. I mean we shot the original short in Pasadena, which is a slightly different vibe from Burbank, and also remembering certain types of kids in school and certain politics and certain weird teachers. So there were a lot more elements than the love of those classic monster movies.
Also, if the original was the structure of Frankenstein then this was the structure of some of those later movies like The House of Frankenstein or Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein where they put more monsters in there. So that made it feel more of a natural expansion of an idea rather than taking a short and trying to pad it out. It’s like being able to have everything be from a real kind of place, the same kind of baseball field, the same kind of auditorium, the same kind of PE teacher and kids and all that. So that made it feel like a real package. Plus it takes time to get the right kind of team together. When we’re working on an animated film for some reason it feels like we always have to start from scratch again because people go off and work for Pixar and wherever else and it’s such a rarefied form of animation that it takes quite a bit of time to put your team together.