Tim Burton’s ‘Frankenweenie’: The Dog Finally Has His Day

Tim Burton’s latest film, Frankenweenie, opens in theaters around the country today–bringing full circle a project that began twenty-eight years ago.

By now, Burton’s characteristic creepiness and underdog loner heroes are familiar, beloved film staples. Children and adults alike relate to his recurring themes of darkness hiding behind the shiniest of facades, and goodness, light, and love residing in places and in people many would consider strange or even dangerous.

But in 1984, when Burton first filmed Frankenweenie–a live-action re-telling of the Frankenstein story in which a young boy resurrects his beloved dog–children’s movies were dominated by cuddly creatures and knights in shining armor. His short film was considered too dark for the likes of Disney and its counterparts, and it never got off the ground.

Ironically, Burton worked as an animator for Disney Studios at the time, but he knew that his future lay elsewhere. “I realize I was not good at their style. It was quite depressing,” he tells NPR. “Being a bad animator saved me. I’d be some alcoholic in the gutter somewhere drawing cute foxes.”

I, for one, am immensely grateful that he didn’t end up swilling cheap vodka while maniacally penciling wide-eyed bunny rabbits on discarded cardboard coffee cups. Otherwise, those of us who have spent countless hours losing ourselves in his worlds full of spirals and stripes and crooked angles, who have recognized something of ourselves in his misunderstood heroes–and who have a library full of films like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Sleepy Hollow, The Corpse Bride, and Edward Scissor Hands to prove it–may never have had the chance to count ourselves among his fans.

I know what you’re thinking: “Weren’t some of those movies released by Disney?” Yes they were. Burton jokes that Disney has had “a revolving door policy” when it comes to his films. But these days, after so many hit movies spawned a cult following that continues to grow, that revolving door seems to be more of an open one. Disney’s California Adventure theme park is currently displaying some of the puppets and drawings used in the new version of Frankenweenie, and Disneyland features some of his Nightmare Before Christmas characters.

The studio also backed Burton’s plan to recreate his original masterpiece — this time with stop motion animation (and a much bigger budget than the first time around, obviously). So today, Frankenweenie, the decades-in-the-making movie that Burton considers his most personal film, makes its debut, thanks to a studio that is finally ready to release it and an audience more than ready to receive it.

If you’d like to see the original version before heading to the theater, take a look below: