“Frankenweenie,” Tim Burton’s new stop-motion animated feature for Walt Disney Pictures which opens in Japan on Dec 15, starts with a young boy, Victor, watching a homemade movie. The star happens to be his dog, Sparky, who rescues miniature townsfolk from a Godzilla-like monster, a foreshadowing of things to come.
Victor, a lonely kid with an attic full of film equipment and a wild imagination, may seem like an obvious stand-in for Burton. That turns out to be only half-right. When it comes to monster movies and horror flicks — the stuff that a young Burton grew up on — the director’s strongest empathies actually lie with the monsters.
“The monster for me was the most emotional character. It’s that feeling that kids have, that you’re different and you’re misunderstood and misperceived by society,” says Burton. “It puts an image to the feelings that you have. And the movies were the safest way to explore those feelings.”
Burton’s identification issues may explain why the 54-year-old director has been able to translate his strange visions and grisly sense of humor into unlikely crowd-pleasers and family-friendly blockbusters over a three-decade career.
His early films, like “Beetlejuice,” starring a young and moody Winona Ryder, and “Edward Scissorhands,” featuring a de-prettified Johnny Depp, helped introduce a Goth-rock aesthetic into mainstream culture and made mopey outsiders seem cooler than the cool kids. Burton was one of the first filmmakers to tap into the dark side of superheroes with 1989’s “Batman,” and his 1993 stop-motion production, “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” remains a gold standard for twisted whimsy.
“Frankenweenie,” his 16th film as a director, is a quintessential Burton tale, in which little Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) zaps his dead dog back to life during a furious lightning storm. Martin Landau plays Victor’s creepy but inspirational science teacher; Ryder can be heard as the girl next door, Elsa van Helsing. Despite the stark, black-and-white photography and dramatic camera angles, “Frankenweenie” is also a quintessential Disney film, in which love and kindness win the day and even science has an undercurrent of magic.
Burton said the film had a special meaning for him because it recaptured the feeling he had for his dog when he was a child. "It was the first pure unconditional love I experienced in my life," he said. "All the characters are real people I knew."
Burton said the real heroes of the film are the animators. "They do a fantastic job that requires a lot of patience," he said. "The joy of seeing them put it all together is very rewarding."© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press/ Japan Today