(Walt Disney Pictures) Before a bumbling 19th century detective was hunted by a headless horseman or a timid, man-made man tried to live with scissors for hands, Tim Burton was merely a young animator making short films. Inspired by old horror and sci-fi tales, Edgar Allen Poe, and the legacy of Vincent Price, Burton worked at Walt Disney Pictures in the early 1980s. For anyone familiar with the eccentric genius, it should come as no surprise that his concepts clashed with Disney’s saccharine style.
His first short was Vincent -- a stop-motion black and white film with a poem written by Burton about a little boy who fancies himself just like his hero, Vincent Price. A live-action adaptation of Hansel and Gretel was next but promptly shelved after its premiere. But the short that got Burton (thankfully) fired from Disney and projected to his future fame was Frankenweenie.
Much like the vulnerable misfits of Burton’s other films, Frankenweenie centers on Victor Frankenstein -- a young boy who makes monster movies starring his dog, Sparky. The short is a parody of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, so it’s easy to imagine what happens to poor Sparky. The short was done in black and white, but turned out too be “too scary” for Disney execs.
After Burton cut his ties with the studio, Frankenweenie caught the attention of Paul Reubens, and the two worked on his first full-length feature, Pee-wee’s Big Adventure. He also met film composer Danny Elfman working on Pee-wee, and forged a career-long relationship with the equally talented musician.
From there, the oddball writer/director’s resume has only flourished. He went on to write such gems as Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. In recent years, he’s moved toward bigger blockbusters like the 3D Alice in Wonderland, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Interestingly enough, his most loyal fans prefer his earlier work -- usually the films that he himself wrote. With the full-length feature remake of Frankenweenie, Burton marks his return to writing since 2005’s Corpse Bride and 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Although all of Burton’s films have his signature style, there is something inherently wonderful in those he’s penned -- a sweet, solemn something that is infused in his characters. There is the same sense of wonder and displacement in Lydia Deetz (Winona Ryder, Beetlejuice), the quirky goth girl who befriends a pair of ghosts (“My whole life is one. big. dark. room.”), in Edward (Johnny Depp, Edward Scissorhands), an unfinished masterpiece that could terrify and delight in the same breath; and in Jack Skellington (songs voiced by Danny Elfman, The Nightmare Before Christmas), the lonesome king of Halloween.
Frankenweenie holds the possibility for Tim Burton to return to a smaller world and to the style he began his career with. Not only is Frankenweenie black and white stop-motion animation, but it's also the first stop-motion picture to be released in IMAX 3D. Several alums from Burton’s previous works have also returned to voice his fleshed-out characters: Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, and Martin Landau.
Stop-motion is a meticulous art form; each character has hundreds of copies with different facial expressions, and sets are fine-tuned to the tiniest detail. Like Beetlejuice’s model town, everything has to be just right. From the trailer, it appears that Tim Burton has found his stride again, to breathe (and electrify) new life into an old friend.
For Fans Of: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Vincent, Frankenweenie, Corpse Bride
Why We're Excited: Tim Burton, Winona Ryder, Stop-Motion Animation
Walt Disney Pictures' 'Frankenweenie' is scheduled for a release date of October 5, 2012 – just in time for Halloween.