Dear Christopher Lee, Movie Dracula (archive footage, uncredited)
It would be funny even if it wasn't true.* When the producers contacted you about participating in Tim Burton's latest animated film, Frankenweenie, you sent them back the work that you had already done for that role…in other movies. I don't know whether they got the joke--since they used the footage--but they didn't give you any credit. It was an appropriate critique of the whole project: it had been done before, and better, even by Burton himself.
The story is pretty much what it says on the tin: boy loves dog, loses dog, reanimates dog, and said dog causes hijinks until the problem can be resolved. The thing I was watching most closely was the relationship of the boy, Viktor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) with his dog. Losing an animal friend is terrible at any age; but for young children, it can be life changing.
That's dangerous territory, and seems to be the reason that Disney fired Burton back in 1984 when he first tried to make Frankenweenie. Apparently death was a no-no for early-80s Disney, (yeah, the company that made Bambi, Old Yeller. The Black Cauldron was probably even in production at the time they gave Burton the boot.). Getting fired for trying to make something you feel strongly about, early on in your directing career, can also be life changing. You might be afraid of any decision. You'd be jumping at shadows and seeing ghosts everywhere.
What we get to watch now, in 2012, is a carefully-made movie that is full of ghosts. You yourself, Mr. Lee, are but a fleeting phantom. The scary issues around the death of a loved one disappear before you ever get a clear look at them. The movie itself is haunted by scenes from other movies. The references swirl by and pass through the story but leave it almost completely undisturbed. The plot itself is like something that would result from a ouji board seance: was it really there, or did the situation of sitting there in the dark just give me the impression there was one?
So what do you think, Mr. Lee? Was this movie an easy introduction to formative experience (filmic and personal) for kids?** Or is it a director awkwardly trying to deal with his own demons? If it's the former, then it's a nice, fun little movie that might encourage kids to learn what all those references are about. If it's the latter, I think that Disney and the memory of what they did to him still scare the bejeezus out of Burton, and he is in need of an exorcism.
Yours in spirit,
*It's not true.
**I do believe that the rules for kid's movies can play to different standards than adult's movies. What can they handle? An eight-year-old would probably find Michael Haneke boring, not horrifying.