Frankenweenie was the short film that got Tim Burton fired at Disney all those years ago — and now he's turning it into a full-length film. Not only is it a passion project for him, it's pretty obviously the silliest thing he's done in forever. We saw the first two clips from the film, and heard Tim Burton talk about how much he was scarred by his experiences in school.
So first we saw a completely campy/silly B-movie trailer for Frankenweenie, with a thundering voiceover talking about stepping into the unknown to bring back what was lost. Basically, Victor's beloved dog dies, and he resorts to weird science to bring the dog back from the dead. And then there are weird lizard creatures, and lots of spooky kids warning that something big is going to happen. One girl's cat Mr. Whiskers gives a terrible warning — in the form of skull-and-crossbones feces from the cat's litterbox.
And we saw two clips. The first was a classroom scene — which Burton said was based on real-life kids he grew up with in school. (Burton kept mentioning over and over how much he was scarred by his experiences as a schoolkid. "I walk into a school and I start to freak out because it reminds me of horrible memories," said Burton.)
In the classroom scene, we zoom into New Holland Elementary School, past a human skeleton hanging in the classroom, into the spookiest classroom in the universe. We meet the new science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau!), who's replacing a teacher who died after being struck by lightning. But, the new teacher explains, lightning doesn't "strike" people like a baseball, or a sausage. Rather, there's a cloud that's angry and worked up — the electrons all want to leave to come to the land of opportunity. And the ground is happy for the electrons to come to it, because the ground needs more electrons who are "trained in science and technology" — and it's clear the spooky Russian science teacher is talking about him. So when the electrons build a ladder to the ground, to "rush to the land of opportunity," a man gets in the way. But in fact, the teacher says, this doesn't happen very often. Except, the schoolkids say, people are constantly being hit by lightning in their town, often twice in an evening.
Then the kids, all of whom are weird and spooky, start debating just why lightning strikes so often in their town. Maybe it's because they built the town on an abandoned gold mine. "I heard it was a cemetery," says another kid. "That's where they buried the miners," says the first kid. Another child says it's the windmill, turning and turning, until the sky itself rages against the night. But no, says the second kid, it's the cemetery.
And in the second clip, we saw a monster-making moment, where Victor and his already-resurrected dog Sparky are talking to Igor, the weird hunchback kid. Victor theorizes that the wind and the lightning are both part of the process of bringing people back to life. "Just the wind isn't strong enough to bring a man back from the dead," says Victor. "For that I need the lightning."
The spooky hunchback kid wants to see the process of resurrection, but Victor says it's not an experiment — it's his beloved dog. It's "show and tell," says Igor — "You show, and I won't tell." Next thing, we see Igor at a pet store, looking at a fish tank. He points to the fish he wants to buy — and it's the one that's floating upside down, dead. Soon enough, the fish tank is inside Victor's lab, being raised on a platform into the skylight... there's lightning everywhere and Victor and Igor cower from the sparks flying. The platform lowers... and the bowl is empty. But it turns out the fish is alive — but invisible! Nobody can figure out why, but Sparky the resurrected dog growls at the invisible fish. Victor swears Igor to secrecy — but he promises with his fingers crossed behind his back.
Burton explained that he did the original Frankenweenie short in live-action because he was a terrible animator. This was his first experience with real actors, and started him on the road to being a director. "I was happy to do it in live action, it was great. It was fun — but in a way, this is the more pure version of it," says Burton.
The idea of the movie "stemmed form having a dead dog when I was a child, and that special realtionship you have with a pet," plus a love of Frankenstein movies, says Burton.
Burton says Frankenweenie was "originally designed to go out with an animated film like Pinocchio — and when we showed the short everybody got all freaked out." But when they showed it before Pinnochio, the audiences were equally terrified by Pinnochio because everybody forgets that Disney movies were founded on the idea of scary, freaky strangeness, along with all that heart.
On the floor at Comic-Con, the Frankenweenie booth showcased the making of the Frankenweenie creature. Designers start with an articulated "skeleton" that has hundreds of movable joints. Then they coat it in silicon foam, creating models of various shapes and sizes. For every scene, the creatures are carefully manipulated into various poses.