Is Tim Burton’s ‘Frankenweenie’ a Retelling of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’?

Frankenwennie Nightmare Before Christmas

Frankenweenie releases in theaters this weekend, but while learning more about the premise, I began to see close similarities to Tim Burton’s other film, The Nightmare Before Christmas. The story may be told differently, but there are certain archetypes and plot elements that bear close resemblance to everyone’s favorite Christmas horror tale.

Yes, these are both claymation films created and directed by Tim Burton, but that’s a pretty obvious similarity. What I argue is that if put under a microscope, you will be able to see that Frankenweenie borrows the same story beats that The Nightmare Before Christmas has.

Of course, many filmmakers use the same story tropes in their films such as the classic hero’s journey or the typical Meg Ryan rom-com. But to have the same creator director use the same ideas for two of his films using claymation in similar genre, one could almost say he’s being lazy.

[Heavy spoilers for The Nightmare Before Christmas]

Here is the plot synopsis of Frankenweenie:

Young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.

Here is the plot synopsis for The Nightmare Before Christmas:

Jack Skellington, king of Halloweentown, discovers Christmas Town, but doesn’t quite understand the concept.

Both movies on paper sound completely different. So how does Frankenweenie lack in creativity? Originally created as a short, live-action film in the early 80s based on the tale of Frankenstein, Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie uses a boy and his dog instead of a man and his monster. Adding a new extension of the story, Tim Burton parallels The Nightmare Before Christmas using seven distinct plot elements.

Victor Frankenstein and Jack Skellington

Let’s look at the protagonists. Here we have Victor Frankenstein. A young boy who just lost his dog, is down on the dumps and no one quite understands him. Jack Skellington bears similar emotions. He is the pumpkin king, on top of the world, but feels alone. Sick of the same old routine, Jack wants something more. Victor has lost his spark in life much like Jack has lost his thrill of Halloween.

Victor and Jack

Until one day both characters discover something magical, something completely wonderful that they feel will lift their spirits and make a huge impact on their lives. Victor learns how electricity can jump start nerves and dead cells to create movement, which gives him the idea to bring Sparky back to life. Mr. Skellington falls upon Christmas Town, a place far removed from his own, which plants the idea in his mind to bring Christmas to Halloween Town.

Weird Girl and Sally

But before they can capitalize on their plans, they are met with a premonition of disaster. Seen in a featured clip of Frankenweenie recently released by Walt Disney Pictures, we see Victor met with one of his female classmates, Weird Girl. She tells him that something bad will happen thanks to a premonition by Mr. Whiskers. She doesn’t really know what Victor is up to, but gives him fair warning about his future. In TNBC, a female character, Sally, stumbles upon a premonition of a Christmas tree on fire and warns Jack that if he continues with his plans there would induce horrible repercussions.

Edgar and Monsters

Ignoring these warnings, these two mad scientists work tirelessly to bring their idea to fruition and it works. It works too well. But when these notions are tossed into the mind of others, things go awfully awry. Victor spills the beans on his secret about Sparky to his classmate Edgar and Jack has no problem letting everyone know his plans. If only these characters would stop and think for a moment, they would have foreseen the consequences of their actions.

Monsters in Frankenweenie

Now that Victor’s classmates learn his secret, they experiment on their own dead pets and bring them to life with unfavorable results. These monstrous pets are now terrorizing the town. Angry and frightened, the townspeople rise up against Victor. It is now up to him to right the wrongs he inevitably is at fault for.

By telling Halloween town of his plans, Jack doesn’t realize that his fellow townspeople are only interested in creating frightening moments for the children of the world, and thus wrecking havoc on Earth. Scared, the world turns on this Jack disguised as Santa Claus and takes him down. It is now up to Jack to save the day due to his lack of judgement.

Professor and Santa

Now I’m not exactly sure how Frankenweenie will end, but in TNBC we see Santa, the one who inspired Jack to give Christmas a go, saving the day after Jack frees him from Oogie Boogie. If all is laid out like TNBC, in Frankenweenie I would assume that Victor will seek out his teacher for help only to have him either save the day or give him the tools he needs to put these creatures down. Will he have to put down Sparky too?

Frankenweenie Jack and Sally

In the end, both Victor and Jack learn their lesson. They now will ere on the side of caution before moving forward with ideas they don’t quite fully understand.

Frankenstein and Skellington

I’m sure Frankenweenie will be a cute, fun movie and I’m looking forward to seeing it. But when the review TV Spot states that it is “Tim Burton’s freshest film in ages,” I don’t really see how. I would agree that it feels like this film has more heart than Alice in Wonderland or Dark Shadows, but it is not fresh. I kind of feel bad for those who purchased tickets for the double feature of Frankenweenie and The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Much like Paul Anderson retelling the same teacher and disciple in all of his movies, maybe it’s time for certain directors to break out of their comfort zones and try something that they haven’t done before. Could you imagine a Tim Burton Marvel superhero movie? Disney does love Tim Burton, I could definitely see his take on Dr. Strange.

Frankenweenie releases in US theaters October 5, 2012.

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