Movie Talk

‘Frankenweenie’: Five Film Facts

Movie Talk

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Vincent Frankenstein attempts to revive his dog Sparky. Photo by Walt Disney Pictures

"Frankenweenie" -- Tim Burton's black and white, stop-motion homage to classic monster movies and his old pooch Pepe' -- opens wide this weekend. When young Victor Frankenstein's beloved dog Sparky gets sent to an early grave, the bashful boy genius uses blinding science to revive his faithful bull terrier. We all know harnessing electricity to raise the dead rarely happens without monstrous repercussions, but here are five fun facts you might not know about the film.

Loyal Fan

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Winona Ryder & Catherine O'Hara (among others) in Tim Burton's

1. Tim Burton is well-known for repeatedly working with the same actors, especially his baby-mama Helena Bonham Carter and his muse Johnny Depp. "Frankenweenie" is no exception, as the vocal cast consists of some grizzled Burton vets. Winona Ryder made black hip as the reclusive Lydia Deetz in "Beetlejuice" (1988) and also played Depp's love interest in "Edward Scissorhands" (1990, shown above); Catherine O'Hara starred as Ryder's manic mother in "Beetlejuice" and voiced the roles of Sally and Shock in "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993); Martin Short showed a penchant for gorgeous alien spies as Press Secretary Jerry Ross in "Mars Attacks!" (1996); and Martin Landau won a supporting actor Oscar for sinking his teeth into the role of Bela Legosi in "Ed Wood" (1994) as well as playing Peter Van Garrett in "Sleepy Hollow" (1999).

Pet Project

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Tim Burton with Sparky. Photo by Walt Disney Pictures

2. This is Burton's pet project, if you will. This feature length version is based on his Disney funded 1984 live-action short starring Daniel Stern and Shelley Duvall. However, Disney fired Burton after finding the material unsuitable for kids. When the Chicago Tribune asked Burton if he felt Disney was right in their decision, the director said, "In this 'Frankenweenie' film, I make a reference to 'Bambi' because Disney founded itself on exploring those things - Bambi's mother dying, for example. Or 'The Lion King' - there's death all over that movie. I find that people at the company forget the history of Walt Disney movies. 'Old Yeller,' 'Snow White' - the movies had scary elements. I felt 'Frankenweenie' was a pretty classic Disney movie." And now, nearly 30 years later, it may yet still be a classic Disney movie.

You Never Get a Second Chance…

'Frankenweenie' Insider Access

3. Though he had already directed "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" (1985), Burton was still relatively unknown while casting his second feature "Beetlejuice". Or at least that's what Ryder thought when she went in for an audition. "I actually didn't know that it was the director. I thought I was in the waiting room with… like some guy from the art department," Ryder told me at the "Frankenweenine" press junket last month. Obviously though, the two found common ground, as Ryder delivered the perfect outsider performance, much of it based on being rejected at her suburban middle school after being raised on a commune surrounded by her counterculture writer parents, her godfather Timothy Leary, and poets Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. You can see the rest of our interview in the exclusive video above.

Development Hell

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Stop motion in tedious action. Photo by Walt Disney Pictures

4. The process of stop-motion is a painstaking endeavor, where on average one animator can only produce about five seconds of footage per week. However, Burton is no stranger to the process. Though he didn't ultimately end up directing "The Nightmare Before Christmas" due to the film being mired in development hell (pun intended), Burton produced, wrote, and created the characters. When he finally got a chance to direct his first stop-motion picture, "Corpse Bride" earned an Oscar nomination for best animated feature.

Big Top

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Paul Reubens in

5. Before hitting the big top… er… the big time, Burton used the original "Frankenweenie" short film as a calling card to land his first feature directing gig. He invited Groundlings comedy trouper Paul Reubens to a private screening of the film that got Burton fired from Disney. And though it was shot in black in white, the partially animated parts and Burton's obvious vision convinced Reubens he'd found the right director for "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" (1985), the script Reubens co-wrote with Phil Hartman. Though the critics didn't quite get the film, a massive cult following did. Pee-Wee became a household name, Burton's been working steadily since, and "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" made our prestigious list of the 100 Funniest Movies to See Before You Die.

Watch the 'Frankenweenie' Theatrical Trailer…

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