If "Frankenweenie" has an edge in the Oscar race for best animated feature, it's because of the Tim Burton factor. He's long overdue for an Academy Award and if it weren't for the continued popularity of "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (which he made with Henry Selick), there likely wouldn't be three stop-motion movies competing for the Oscar this year. And Burton's the first to admit that stop-motion movies are purely artistic labors of love that can't compete commercially with their CG siblings, so an Oscar for Burton would finally be an acknowledgment of his stature and influence.
Plus, it would be fitting to honor Burton for "Frankenweenie," which is the director's most personal movie about his love of monster movies and the craft of stop-motion, growing up in Burbank, and, yes, an ode to his childhood dog (the premise of his original live-action short from 1984).
"For me, 'Frankenweenie' was a real memory thing and expanding on other monsters," reflects Burton, who was in LA recently, "writhing in pain" from a broken arm as a result of falling on a slippery London street on the day of his daughter's fifth birthday. "Just as a process, it was quite cleansing and fun to just think about people and places that you haven't thought of for years: going back and remembering kids that you knew in school or teachers or whatever."
Burton isn't one for intellectualizing, but he admits that "Frankenweenie" offered a rare opportunity to revisit the past as both adult and child. It's why there's as much care and compassion in the kindly scientist, Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau), who was designed as a tribute to Burton's boyhood idol, Vincent Price, as there is in his adolescent alter-ego, his heroic bull terrier, Sparky, and the gallery of misunderstood monster misfits.
"I have a different perspective now," Burton suggests. "For me, from the beginning, it was such a personal idea, and then I got into that whole idea of 'Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein,' so it was fun to expand on almost everything whether it was the park or the classroom, which you don't get to do on every movie. We tried to treat it like a live-action film and made it a reunion. It was so nice to work with people I haven't worked with in a while: Martin, Winona [Ryder], Catherine [O'Hara], and Martin [Short]."
Burton also reminisced about Burbank, which hasn't changed at all, except for the malls and movie theaters. "And that's the horror for me of Burbank -- all those great theaters that I grew up with are gone. Somewhere I have a Polaroid of one of the last screenings of the Pickwick Drive-In: 'Beetlejuice' and 'Batman' together. There were a lot of theaters. And you remember where you saw every movie: The Cornell…Fifty cents for triple features like the 'Godzilla' movies and 'Dr. Jekyll and Mrs. Hyde.'"