Tim Burton re-animates boy-and-dog story 'Frankenweenie' -- FIRST LOOK!

Photo by Leah Gallo

Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie is shaping up to be an interesting mix of “Ewwwww!’s” as well as “Awwwww’s.”

His latest stop-motion gothic-fest (rendered in 1950s-style black-and-white as well as 3-D) tells the story of a little boy named Victor, who loves his pet dog Sparky more than anything in the world. Naturally — or rather, unnaturally — Victor decides to use his science kit to bring the pup back from the grave after an accident claims the pooch’s life.

As with Mary Shelley’s original 1818 tale of men playing god and science run amok, pandemonium follows the creation of the “monster,” who in this case is just a stitched-up, resurrected undead buddy.

Many know that Burton lost his job as an artist at The Walt Disney Co. for making this dark comedy as a live-action short in 1984, but few know the true story from Burton’s past that inspired it. As Halloween approaches, EW reveals that long-ago tale, along with first-look stills from the movie.


The original concept was basic: take the standard, beloved tale of a boy and his dog – then twist it into creepy, comedic shapes. “It just tries to keep that idea of a very, simple pure relationship,” he says. What’s more pure than the story of a kid and his first pet?

“Mix that with the Frankenstein myth,” Burton adds with a chuckle, “and it causes problems.” But the big beating heart in the story (apart from the re-animated one inside Frankenweenie’s chest) is the sad fact that we all outlive those four-legged pals from our childhood, and goodbye can be a painful thing. The idea of bringing a lost friend back to life? “It has its good side and repercussions,” Burton says. “Ultimately, we try to go with the slightly more positive aspects of keeping that [boy-and-his-dog] relationship going.”

Frankenweenie, though a stitched-together hodgepodge and scientific abomination, is ultimately still a cute little bugger. The goofy name itself was chosen to suggest something harmless. “It’s like a small pet name, a hot-dog kind of thing,” Burton says.

When he originally created the idea for his 1984 short, it was buried for 10 years after Disney executives found it too weird to release. After The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride, a lot has changed. The movie Disney once fired Burton for making is now being remade as one of their most important titles of next year.

As for what happened in 1984? “I don’t know, they got freaked out or something, but they still allowed me to make the film,” Burton says. “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.” That short became a calling card that led to his first feature, Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, and all that followed.


As outlandish as Frankenweenie was, it also had roots in a real-life pet dog Burton had while growing up in Burbank. “It’s such an unconditional relationship,” Burton recalls. “A lot of kids have that experience – I certainly had that experience with a first pet. You’ll probably never have it again in your life in that way, it’s so pure and memorable.”

“His name was Pepe — we lived in a Spanish neighborhood,” Burton recalls. “Our dog had this thing called distemper, and wasn’t supposed to live more than a couple of years. He lived much longer than that, which kind of fed into this Frankenstein mythology as well.”

What kind of dog was Pepe? “It was a mix, kind of a mutt, with a bit of terrier, and a bit of something else,” Burton says. “I don’t know what it was. It was kind of a mixture.”

That adds to Frankenstein mythology too.

It’s a surprisingly sweet origin for a lovingly weird movie. (Admit it, you were expecting something much stranger.)

Above we see a look at the adorable dog Sparky before the accident that claims his life, leading to his monster moniker of Frankenweenie. “He doesn’t have any stitches yet,” Burton laughs. “That’s only a short part of the film. Don’t get too used to that look.”

Frankenweenie, with voices by Winona Ryder, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara and Martin Landau, will be in theaters Oct. 5, 2012.


Comments (66 total) Add your comment
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  • Joker’s Lady

    It looks cute, I’m up for watching it. I vaguely remember the original short

    • liao

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    • This is Going to Tank

      This film is going to tank. No one wants to see a movie in black and white these days. Burton hasn’t made a hit movie since the late 80’s. Snooze. I’ll pass.

      • kyle

        Your a total idiot considering paranormal activity was nightvision/black and white and made 70 million dollars in a weekend. Oh and Burtons first hit film didn’t come until the early 90s. Learn something about film and what people are interested before you prevent yourself looking like a moron in the future.

      • @ Kyle

        Insert Cartman’s standard response to anything Kyle says here.

      • Craven Lovelace

        Also, Tim Burton made a little film called “Alice in Wonderland” just last year that made over a billion dollars worldwide. I think I’ll trust his box office judgment over some badly misinformed comment troll.

      • Joey

        go back to 4chan and brush up on whatever you called that comment

  • Hugh

    Burton is Back! xx

  • mrgnexus

    “Family Dog” reborn! Very cool.

    • lae

      That was my first thought too. This dog looks just like the Family Dog!!
      “Do I have dreams? Do I have asperations? NO! But I have a toilet bowl thats spring time fresh & I’m as pleased as punch to be a short order cook to a dog!!!”

      • mrgnexus

        That is awesome. That cartoon is one of high points of “Amazing Stories”.

    • Kate

      It looks EXACTLY like the dog in “Family Dog” — was Burton involved in Amazing Stories???

    • Tehr-Ree

      TOTALLY!!! And yes… Tim Burton was involved with “Family Dog,” (that episode specifically… not “Amazing Stories” in general) so this is not a complete surprise to me. But I’m still pleased to see just how much they’re going back to that design (although I see the nose is attached to the snout).


      “If we can’t transform your dog into a quivering, snarling, white-hot ball of canine terror… then we will grant you a full refund, of course.”

  • monica campbell

    Great Artist at work again,looking forward to seeing the finish film in 2012. PS can i bring my small dog too?:)

    • Hicaro

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  • mah

    Look’s nice from the pictures, right up Burton’s alley, with the suburb theme and dark humor. Love it so far. Please for the love of F**K just leave Depp and Carter out of it for once man.. I know they’re like your home slices but it’s gotten really repetitive seeing those two tag along all the time.

    • max

      IMDB, depp is not in this one. Thankfully.

      • alan of montreal

        but he has brought cast member from other films he’s done–Winona Ryder (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands), Catherine O’Hara (Beetlejuice), Martin Landau (Ed Wood), and Martin Short (Mars Attacks!).

      • Das Rickster

        Oh thank mackerel! I do not dislike Depp, but it’s already beyond a bit annoying that he’s the hero in every Burton movie.

  • lesley

    I cant wait, looks and sounds fantastic, I just love your style!

    • Emma

      The new Zune browser is spuirisrngly good, but not as good as the iPod’s. It works well, but isn’t as fast as Safari, and has a clunkier interface. If you occasionally plan on using the web browser that’s not an issue, but if you’re planning to browse the web alot from your PMP then the iPod’s larger screen and better browser may be important.

  • JLC

    It is ironic, since the original Frankenweenie ended up as an extra on the Nightmare before Christmas DVD, along with another Burton short, Vincent, that he made around the same time. I guess all is truly forgiven.

  • Marc

    By the way, he wasn’t “fired” for making Frankenweenie. He left because he was frustrated that he had to change so many of his ideas for ‘The Black Cauldron’
    Gorgeous puppets, though

    • Anthony Breznican

      He told me he wasn’t welcome back after Frankenweenie, but he also mentioned being frustrated over other things at that time.

  • biokmst

    Hey! I LIKE Depp and Carter!!! What two other actors can be sooooo animated – both on screen and digitally? NONE…Nicholson and Pacino are too old now.

    • Dave

      Yeah, Depp and Carter were awesome in Corpse Bride. Their voice work was fantastic.

  • aaron

    This is the Tim Burton I love. I’m looking forward to it.

    • Elias

      Looks like a killer blog. I was wrnedoing if you had some more pictures or youtube links regarding this topic. I would love that! Nice job keep it up

  • AAron

    Definatly gonna see this!!!

  • Jon

    Looks cool. And more Burtonian than his recent films. But, EW, how is it that no one notices this sentence?
    “Many know that Burton was lost his job as an artist at The Walt Disney Co. for making…”

    • Anthony Breznican

      Oh my God … A one-word typo in an online article? I think this may be the first time in history that has ever happened. I will be turning in my resignation (surely full of misspellings and grammatical errors) this afternoon.

      • Donner

        LLO….oops, I mean LOL

      • Jon

        Someone’s touchy. And the blame goes to editors (not the writer) when something like this happens. On a side note, consult a therapist.

      • Samantha

        LOL, someone’s butthurt.

    • Person Man

      They butchered this sentence, too, with that extra comma:

      “Frankenweenie, though a stitched-together, hodgepodge and scientific abomination, is ultimately still a cute little bugger.”

      • editor


    • amyc

      I say the blame should be put on the writer as well. The fact that the “article” is online is no excuse for being lazy and not proofreading one’s work.

    • Anthony Breznican

      Sure thing, Jon. I’ll look around for your sense of humor on the way. Amyc, I’m sorry we failed your total perfection test.

      • nunya

        Too bad dude, the secondary effects of chaos from your grammatically incorrect entertainment news story will be long reaching. Children will starve, mothers will weep, dogs and cats living together. (Sorry had to go there)

  • Amy

    I was thinking that it looked like the “Family Dog” show as well. I loved that dog. :-)

  • Ronnie1

    Sounds like an interesting premise for a movie…though when I heard the title, I was really excited, cause I thought it would involve a DACHSHUND, the original “weenie” dog. Oh, well…their loss!

    • Mary

      There really aren’t enough movies about Dachshunds! I think they should make a 101 Dachshunds move.

      • The Wizard

        I know right! The most famous dog of all time, the wizard of Oz, was a dachshund named Otto (get it). A few scenes were shot, but the directory was just too overwhelmed by how awesome Otto was.

  • amy

    I remember this from when I was a kid! I can’t believe it’s back!! Even as a kid I didn’t think it was creepy, I thought it was adorable :) maybe I’m a weirdo haha

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