11 October, 2012

The Dolorous Debut of Frankenweenie, and Other Sufferances

I wasn’t present for the 5 October opening of Tim Burton’s latest stop-motion animated feature, Frankenweenie, but I dearly wanted to be. Back row, center; 3D glasses askew from my lopsided ears; a ginormous bucket of popcorn rapidly emptying in my lap; a cup of Dr. Pepper — no ice — beside me, large enough to ensure at least ten missed minutes of the IMAX experience due to restroom trips; an expression of blank rapture on my face — I’d have waited in a line around the block to make sure all of this came true, because I loved the original, live-action Frankenweenie and find that even Burton’s worst output (I nominate the crushing disappointment that was his Planet of the Apes remake) cannot stem the effluence of enthusiasm I get for any new project he releases. The announcement of a new Tim Burton movie is one of those rare events with the power to turn me back into a seven-year-old boy.  

Oddly enough, I know of no other creator whose body of work is tied to so many firsts in my life. It was a Tim Burton movie, Batman, that I watched the first time I went to the theater alone. (I was eleven years old, not seven, but that’s hardly the point.) My first celebrity crush was sparked by a Burton movie I saw when I was thirteen: Winona Ryder, in Beetlejuice. The first DVD I ever bought was Mars Attacks!, his hilarious, underrated satire. Big Fish, with its plot that surrounds a son’s coming to terms with his father’s death, was the first film to make me cry. If these connections cast me in a certain light, I think I could do worse than for that light to be Burton’s signature bluish hue — the light of dawn and of twilight, and of forests in snowfall.

When I was young, mine was a downhearted soul. I read Poe by candlelight, “secretly” smoked clove cigarettes in my room while listening to Mozart’s Requiem all night, and thought often about the boundless iniquity of existence. The works of Tim Burton — his films as well as his illustrated storybook, The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy — all but categorically focus on the travails of the outsider, the leper, the ugly duckling. You don’t have to meet Burton in person to understand that his was a childhood beset by ostracism, through which he’s still working, in ways. The stories he creates therefore seem made purely for himself. That they happen to resonate with those of us well acquainted with otherness is merely a byproduct, which we can call “success.” Burton’s creative output deals in the placid sadness of being alone, in the celebration of difference, in childhood’s innocent magic, in the often ill-fated clambering for acceptance, in the giddiness of unfettered self-expression — in short, all of the themes to which a weirdo like me would rise from his slouch and say aloud, “Yes, this is for me.” 

The seven-year-old boy in me did not get his ticket to the latest addition to Burton’s cabinet of curiosities. He did not get to stand in line, breathing the heady scent of popping corn, nor to find that perfect seat, all the way in the back of the theater, where he could feel comfortably out-of-the-way. He did not get to find out if modern 3D glasses make him as nauseous and headachy as the old polarized blue-and-red ones did. He did not get to find out how Victor and Sparky reunite and get on, in this retelling of a favorite tale. It’s a small disappointment, like Jack Skellington’s, in Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, when dense Halloweentown neighbors completely misunderstand Jack’s proposal for a magical Yuletide celebration, but what it portends is outright dejection.


  1. And I thought I was the only 'adult' that was so stoked to see Frankenweenie! I will do my best to enjoy it for the both of us.

  2. I also got to see Big Fish in the theatre and I also cried, big messy tears and noisy gulps for air not concerned a bit if I was bothering anybody else. I remember Big Fish so vividly still that I haven't seen it again. I love the movie, and I also loved Bettlejuice when I was little. Lydia was my It Girl. Tim Burton the magic man. I thank you for reminding me of Mars Attacks! as well, Byron, another movie I saw in the theatre too. I was smitten with it also. Here's to all things Tim Burton! Here's to the underdogs!


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