Tim Burton was working for Disney as an animator in 1984 when he made his live-action directorial debut with a darkly funny short film about a young boy who takes a cue from a horror classic to bring his beloved pet dog Sparky back to life after being hit by a car, and that twisted little gem got him fired as a result when the company deemed it too unusual to bother with a legitimate release. After more than a quarter of a century Frankenweenie is being resurrected by Burton as a 3D, black and white, stop-motion animated feature and Entertainment Weekly has released the first stills from the movie. You can check it out here below.
The original short that helped land Burton the job directing his first full-length feature Pee Wee’s Big Adventure starred Daniel Stern, Shelley Duvall, Paul Bartel, and a pre-Godfather Part III Sofia Coppola (using her former stage name Domino) and was supposed to be shown in theaters attached to a re-release of the Disney classic Pinocchio, but was shelved for nearly a decade after test screenings produced nothing but traumatized children. The studio finally relented and allowed Frankenweenie to see the light of day after Burton’s directing career took off, although an uncensored version would not be seen until it was included in the extras on the Nightmare Before Christmas DVD.
For the new animated film Burton has stocked the voice cast with several members of his repertory company, including Winona Ryder, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, and Martin Landau. The story has its roots in the director’s past, particularly a dog his family while he was growing up.
“His name was Pepe — we lived in a Spanish neighborhood. Our dog had this thing called distemper, and wasn’t supposed to live more than a couple of years,” Burton said. “He lived much longer than that, which kind of fed into this Frankenstein mythology as well.”
Despite the gravely negative reactions he received from his employers and the public at the time he made the original short Burton maintains a healthy perspective on the situation and the eventual outcome.
“Even though I was frustrated about the release — or not release of it — it was still a great experience, and did a lot for me, so I couldn’t really complain.”
The two below images are of the film’s young protagonist Victor hard at work in his lab and little Sparky prior to ending up on his devastated owner’s operating table. Click on both to see larger versions of each image.