TORONTO - SCTV comedy legends Martin Short and Catherine O'Hara say they agreed to lend their voices to the new stop-motion animated tale "Frankweenie" for a very simple reason: Tim Burton.
After all, the pair had a good idea of what they were in for, having both worked for the wildly imaginative director before (Short in 1996's "Mars Attacks!" and O'Hara in 1988's "Beetlejuice" and 1993's "The Nightmare Before Christmas").
"It was such a great, creative happy experience," Short said of his previous collaboration with Burton. "Because he is a true artist, whatever he does, it just comes deep from his heart ... it made (me) very honoured in a way to be asked."
Added O'Hara: "Absolutely. I was just happy to see him again."
Based on a short Burton made in 1984, "Frankenweenie" centres on 10-year-old budding scientist Victor Frankenstein, who, devastated by the death of his dog Sparky, begins experimenting with ways to bring the pooch back to life.
Rendered in black and white, the 3D film pays loving tribute to some of the horror flicks that have so inspired Burton.
It also features some of the actors who have turned in notable performances in Burton films, including Martin Landau as Victor's Vincent Price-esque science teacher Mr. Rzykruski and "Beetlejuice" star Winona Ryder as next-door-neighbour Elsa van Helsing.
O'Hara and Short are Victor's doting parents, blithely unaware of the experiments their son is conducting in the attic.
In addition to their roles as Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein, Burton also enlisted each of them to play two other characters in the film. The pair found that opportunity so creatively intoxicating that they jokingly say they worried Burton might change his mind at any minute.
"I was doing three voices but I thought it was kind of an audition," said O'Hara. "Every time I went back to record I thought: 'I'm still doing three voices? Wow. I'm still doing three characters?' So for me there's always that tension of, 'I'm going to get fired now!'"
She continued: "It's always very loose and fun and it doesn't feel like work, but at the same time there's a tension underneath for me just wanting to please and wanting to do it right.... I just want to please someone like Tim because he's really good."
Added Short: "Neither one of us said: 'Why do you want us to play three characters?' because we were afraid that he'd say: 'Right, you shouldn't play three.'"
Short says the casting move is simply typical of the way Burton likes to shake things up, noting the director put all the credits at the end of the movie so audiences wouldn't know he and O'Hara voiced six characters.
At this point in the interview, though, O'Hara chides her longtime friend: "But now we're telling everyone."
"The cat's out of the bag," agrees Short.
That kind of chemistry peppers the interview as the two constantly veer off topic for a laugh. When O'Hara's cellphone goes off in mid-interview, chiming out a spooky ring, Short is ready.
"Wow — Conrad Black, what does he want?" he riffs.
"Well, he says I'm probably not going to hate prison as much as I think," says O'Hara.
Their easy rapport no doubt appealed to Burton, who allowed the actors to record their lines together — somewhat of an anomaly in animated films.
As for the creative payoff he gets from such projects, Short calls voicework "a totally different muscle."
"You do the theatre, it's one kind of technique, you do voicework ... everything is in your voice. It's a unique example of being an actor."
"It's scary and great," sums up O'Hara.
"Frankenweenie," meanwhile, is garnering strong reviews, with critics saying it recalls the best of Burton's early work.
Summing up his experience, Short says: "I was just happy (when I saw it) having been a small part of this creative wheel."
"It's really beautiful," says O'Hara. "You can't possibly appreciate the work that goes into stop-motion animation on first viewing.... I just completely got into the story. I mean you just care about this boy and his dog."
"Frankenweenie" opens Friday.