Tim Burton goes back in time to childhood

Agence France-Presse

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The director best known for dark, 'weird' and memorable film projects reveals part of his childhood in his latest stop-motion movie

'DARK' DIRECTOR TIM BURTON. Image from the Tim Burton Facebook page

LOS ANGELES, USA – Black and white, old-fashioned stop-motion animation but in 3D: cinema’s past and future combine in Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie,” which the Gothic filmmaker says was inspired by his childhood.

His first animated feature since 2005’s “Corpse Bride,” the movie tells the story of a boy who brings his cherished dog back to life, only to open a Pandora’s box of terrifying back-from-the-dead monsters.

The movie, out last weekend in the United States, is based on a short film of the same name that Burton made for Disney in 1984 — but which was never released because it was deemed too frightening for children.

Almost 3 decades later, having made his name in Hollywood with hits including “Alice in Wonderland” — that has earned over US$1-B worldwide — the quirky director was given carte blanche to remake his early work.

The story is the same: Victor Frankenstein, a bit of a loner and obsessed with science, sees his pet dog Sparky killed by a car — but brings him back to life in high-voltage Frankenstein fashion.

The “miracle” is difficult to keep secret, especially from classmates who are curious and jealous of his discovery, and one thing after another leads to havoc in the town.

While Burton’s 1984 short told the story with real actors and actresses, the new version uses stop-motion animation techniques — where objects are moved in small increments between individual frames.

It is also in black and white — which the filmmaker says was crucial.

“It had to be stop-motion and it had to be black and white. It’s hard to put into words but for me it makes it more emotional,” Burton told reporters, presenting the movie before its release.

“I felt so strongly about it that if the studio had said ‘We’ll do the movie but it has to be in color,’, I just wouldn’t have done it. It was that important.”

SPARKY IS THE FRANKEN-DOG in Burton's 'Frankenweenie.' Image from the movie's Facebook page

Burton had already used stop-motion — one of the oldest animation techniques, and one of the most laborious — in “Corpse Bride,” and earlier in “The Nightmare Before Christmas” in 1993.

The characters are articulated figurines that have to be moved onerously, frame by frame — 24 movements per second of film — to create the illusion of movement.

“There is something about it that can’t change: you have to take the puppet and move it 24 times for one second of film. That goes back to the beginning of cinema,” he said.

“There’s something about the old-fashioned technique… It’s tactile, it’s tangible. Some of the people that like doing it love the fact that, actually, nothing has changed technologically.”

The movie also pays tribute to classic horror flicks that Burton grew up with as a child in Burbank, a Los Angeles suburb: Frankenstein and Godzilla, and actors like Boris Karloff and Peter Lorre, evoked in the movie.

“I grew up feeling — which probably most kids do — like you’re alone, no one understands you, you’re different, all those kinds of feelings. At the same time, I remember feeling quite normal, whatever that means,” he said.

“I didn’t feel like a weirdo.”

The original short was “based on real feelings about when I was a child with a dog, the Frankenstein movies and mixing those up,” he said.

“As the years went on… I started going back to other memories about that time, remembering other kids at school, the weirdness of the way kids are, and the new teachers, and other monster movies.

“So after years of thinking about it, it just sort of made sense to kind of do stop-motion black and white 3D; it just made it feel like a whole different project.

“I tried to personalize everything. You can’t do that with a lot of projects but this one was so much based on all sorts of memories.” – Romain Raynaldy, Agence France-Presse

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