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Tim Burton reanimates his past in 'Frankenweenie'

With 'Frankenweenie,' the director circles back to Burbank and the dark short that began his career.

October 05, 2012|By Katherine Tulich
  • "Frankenweenie" Director Tim Burton reviews the character maquettes in the Puppet Hospital with Producer Allison Abbate.
"Frankenweenie" Director Tim Burton reviews… (Leah Gallo/2011…)

When Tim Burton was an eager young animator and filmmaker working at Disney Studios in the early 1980s, he made an inventive live-action short film inspired by his childhood in Burbank and the love of a family dog. That 1984 short, “Frankenweenie,” which starred Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern, has now been turned into a 3-D stop-motion animated feature.

“It was great to be able to go back to the original and expand on it,” says Burton, who shot the short at Disney Studios in Burbank and on the streets of Pasadena. “This is such a memory piece for me. I started thinking about other kids I remember in school, and other aspects of the neighborhood I grew up in Burbank. We also expanded on the monster theme of the movie. All those new elements made it feel like a brand-new project.”

The story centers on a creative young boy named Victor who feels at odds with his cookie-cutter neighborhood. He finds solace in the amateur short films he makes and the love of his closest companion, his dog, Sparky. When tragedy strikes and he loses Sparky, Victor is inspired by lessons from his science teacher to bring his best friend back to life. While he tries to hide his new home-sewn creation, Sparky gets out and unleashes panic in the neighborhood.


It stands as one of Burton’s most personal films, combining childhood memories with his early love of classic black-and-white horror films. “It all stemmed from that remembrance of having that first pet. It’s such an important relationship and its unconditional love,” Burton explains. “The dog I had was not meant to live for very long. He had this disease distemper, so there was always this specter that he wasn’t going to be around for very long, even though the dog ended up living for quite a long time. That’s why it seemed so appropriate to hook it up to the Frankenstein story — that wish fulfillment of bringing something back or keeping something alive.”

The iconoclastic filmmaker, dressed in black, dark sunglasses fixed on his face, and a wave of unbrushed chaotic hair speckled with gray, now lives a world away from Burbank in Britain, but admits those early years had a great influence on him. “I think of it now with horror and fondness,” he says with a laugh. “It's where you're from so there's definitely warm and many positive feelings because it’s part of you.”

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