It Came Out of Burbank
Q. Not only does “Frankenweenie” hark back to the start of your career, it seems to refer to many of the features you’ve made since the original short. Is that by design?
A. If I really thought about it, that’s something I would probably not do. [Laughs.] I don’t consciously make those points of: I did this, I’m going to put that in there as a reference to myself. Things that I grew up with stay with me. You start a certain way, and then you spend your whole life trying to find a certain simplicity that you had. It’s less about staying in childhood than keeping a certain spirit of seeing things in a different way.
Q. How much of your childhood are we seeing in Victor’s isolation?
A. I felt like an outcast. At the same time I felt quite normal. I think a lot of kids feel alone and slightly isolated and in their own world. I don’t believe the feelings I had were unique. You can sit in a classroom and feel like no one understands you, and you’re Vincent Price in “House of Usher.” I would imagine, if you talk to every single kid, most of them probably felt similarly. But I felt very tortured as a teenager. That’s where “Edward Scissorhands” came from. I was probably clinically depressed and didn’t know it.
Q. Were you encouraged to try sports?
A. My dad was a professional baseball player. He got injured early in his career, so he didn’t fulfill that dream of his. He ended up working for the sports department of the city of Burbank. I did some sports. It was a bit frustrating. I wasn’t the greatest sports person.
Q. That can be deeply disheartening at that age, to learn that you’re bad at something.
A. It’s the same with drawing. If you look at children’s drawings, they’re all great. And then at a certain point, even when they’re about 7 or 8 or 9, they go, “Oh, I can’t draw.” Well, yes, you can. I went through that same thing, even when I started to go to CalArts, and a couple of teachers said: “Don’t worry about it. If you like to draw, just draw.” And that just liberated me. My mother wasn’t an artist, but she made these weird owls out of pine cones, or cat needlepoint things. There’s an outlet for everyone, you know?
Q. Were horror films and B movies easily accessible when you were growing up?
A. They’d show monster movies on regular TV then, which they wouldn’t show now. Some of them were pretty hard core, like “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die,” or something where a guy gets his arm ripped off and is bleeding down the wall. My parents were a bit freaked out. [Laughs.] But better that I’m watching TV than them having to watch me or deal with me.