One of the last tasks of former Walt Disney Co. chairman Dick Cook was to announce the stop-motion-animated, feature-length remake of Tim Burton's first live-action short, Frankenweenie, at the D23 Fan Expo on Sept. 11, and several details were revealed about the much-anticipated project.
In the short, a boy re-animates his dead dog a la Frankenstein, only to see his beloved pet rejected and persecuted by an angry mob. Now that Burton has graduated to literary remakes and musicals, a feature-length Frankenweenie will be a nice throwback to classic Burton.
In a press conference and subsequent exclusive interview at D23, we got Frankenweenie producer Don Hahn to reveal several key details:
1) It's black and white. Burton's short was shot in black and white, like the original Frankenstein movies. Shooting a cartoon for wide release without color must have been a tougher sell. "It was and it wasn't," Hahn said. "I think now, with Tim working at the top of his craft, the top of his game, on movies like Alice in Wonderland, I think Dick Cook really felt like if you're going to take a risk on anybody, why can't it be Tim Burton? A Tim Burton movie in black and white based on Frankenstein, how cool is that? Dick was very supportive of it." [It's unclear Cook's abrupt departure on Friday will affect the movie.]
2) The new script has more Frankenstein and more dog. At 30 minutes long, the original Frankenweenie barely covered the re-animation and angry mob elements of the Frankenstein legends. Hahn told the press conference that the expanded script is complete. "It's Frankenstein mixed with a boy-and-his-dog story, very much like the original one," Hahn said in an exclusive interview after the conference. "What's great is Tim grew up in Southern California, in Burbank, and the movie itself kind of takes that California suburban look at a monster movie story. I think that's what we're trying to do."
3) The Frankenstein family tree is growing. With the expanded script come more characters. The original short starred Barret Oliver as Victor Frankenstein and Daniel Stern and Shelley Duvall as his parents, Ben and Susan. Paul Bartel, Sofia Coppola and Jason Hervey played some of the neighbors. "There are a lot of great new characters in it, really great new characters," Hahn said in our exclusive interview. "It's the ensemble. It's the Tim Burton ensemble." Most of the original actors are still with us and could reprise their roles, but Hahn said it's too early for voice casting. Could Johnny Depp make an appearance? "The neat thing about Tim is he can pretty much call up anybody he needs and they'll be happy to work with him," Hahn said.
4) Now Tim Burton can do what he wants. Burton actually got fired from Disney for making the original Frankenweenie. The studio thought it was too scary for children. Only after his success at Warner Brothers did Disney realize there was a market for his work. Now they're clamoring for Burton, who is directing and designing the stop-motion puppets. "Unlike Tim's recent stop-motion movies, he's designing the characters himself," Hahn said in our exclusive interview. "So you really get kind of the hand of the artist in it and get to see Tim's work itself. It's Tim Burton at his best. I think that's why he leapt at it, because when he started out making movies, it was his first choice for a live-action movie. I think he felt like, 'Gee, I wish I could've made a feature back then.' So now to come back and revisit the material is pretty fun for him, I think."
5) They've already started. Cook just announced a 2011 release for Frankenweenie. That's not much time to animate 90 minutes of film frame by frame, although they can get away with 70 or less. "I'm not sure it's a 90-minute film," Hahn said. Burton and his team have already built maquettes. "We're underway on it, and I think the most important thing is it has to be a good movie," Hahn said. "So if it's not ready for 2011, then we'll let it drift into the next year, but we're up and running already." Production is underway in London, where Burton did The Corpse Bride. "The primary reason to go there is Tim lives there, and there's a great group of talent over there also that is really into stop-motion animation," Hahn said.