Film - A monstrous adventure

23rd November 2012 at 00:00
Frankenweenie producer Alison Abbate on the power of science

Allison Abbate is an award-winning film producer who has worked in animation for 23 years. Her latest film is Frankenweenie, directed by Tim Burton.

Q: Why were you drawn to working in animation?

A: I remember cartoons as a child: I especially loved Peter Pan and Looney Tunes. I had dreamed of making movies ever since I was little. After university I moved to Los Angeles, and took a job temping at Disney right at the end of the production of The Little Mermaid in 1989. I've been working in animation ever since.

Q: Why do you think animation engages children so effectively?

A: I think the graphic nature of animation is very appealing to the eye of a child. In Frankenweenie, the relationship between Victor and Sparky is something children can really relate to. I also think it's important that children are the protagonists of the piece. Victor is the hero, the one who has to figure out how to save the day, and I think it's great for children to see how other children can solve problems and take the lead.

Q: How and why did you develop the message in Frankenweenie that scientific experiments are an antidote to ignorance and prejudice?

A: We had a panel of scientists in the US talk about the science in the film. Even though the science isn't real and you can't actually bring your dog back from the dead, it's still good to talk about what science can do, the powers of different forces and the opening up of the questions of science.

Q: And what about the theme that being different is good?

A: I think that's a theme in a lot of Tim Burton's films and it's a perfect metaphor for the story of Frankenstein, which is essentially the story of a child, or a creature, being rejected for being different and not being perfect. Everyone thinks that Frankenstein is the monster, but actually the scientist is. It's a great message for kids, telling them indirectly that it's important to love things even if they are different.

Q: Tell us about the resources for teachers attached to the film.

A: The film has a strong "power of science" theme, so the resources have a dual science and visual literacy focus. The key stage 2 science lessons focus on forces; irreversible and reversible changes; electrical circuits; and the conditions needed for life. Pupils can explore how Burton creates meaning on screen using black and white in an interactive character-creation shading activity (ICT, art and design). And teachers can organise a Frankenweenie creative-writing afternoon. The resources engage pupils who speak English as an additional language, pupils with special educational needs and high-flyers - they can share a text collectively and discuss it in all its forms.

Q: What else do you think children can draw from the film?

A: To me, the big lessons are to love each other, to love the people that are in your life, to take care of them, to look out for them and be responsible. If you can get kids to really look and take responsibility for their actions, that is a great message.

Q: What's the next step for animation?

A: I would like to see a greater variety of animation and storytelling on the screen. Technology is making it more accessible and kids can actually make films at home. They can make stop-motion with their own digital cameras or their phones. Because more people have access to the art form, I am hoping that we start to see more diversity.

Frankenweenie is currently on general release. For the resources, visit: filmeducation.orgfrankenweenie


Try FilmEducation's Frankenweenie resource. bit.lytesFrankenweenie

Start a class animation project with kel_bel22's guide to using the free Monkey Jam software. bit.lyMonkeyJam

Beth Morgan's unit of work on stop-motion animation is great for the end of term. bit.lytesStopMotion.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today