Antonia Lidder recounts her experience with Frankenweenie, and its impact on her son diagnosed with autism:
In spring 2012, when he had a vocabulary of approximately 15 words, Gabriel clearly said ‘Sparky’. We were excited that he’d said a word and was undoubtedly trying to communicate with us, yet we had no idea what ‘sparky’ was. We searched our memories and came up blank. Then one day I recalled, ‘Last month we did see a trailer for a Tim Burton film – there was a dog in it called Sparky, but it’s only mentioned a couple of times, and it was so fast, and we’ve only seen it once…’
‘Nah,’ my husband said, ‘can’t be.’
How much we have learnt since.
For some kids with autism, seeing a movie in a theater eliminates many of the distractions of ordinary life — eye contact, social cues, needing to keep up a conversation. In the darkness, they can focus on the movie in front of them. The movie theater is one of the last places you can fully lose yourself in a story.
Frankenweenie is deliberately simple, both visually and narrativley. It’s black-and-white, with no fast cutting. It’s the story of a boy and his dog and the adults around them.
My hunch is that kids with autism identify with both Sparky and Victor. Sparky is mute but curious, steadfast but easily frightened. Victor is reclusive and odd, but his oddness isn’t threatening. He’s special and his parents love him for it.
For Lidder, the film opened the floodgates:
FRANKENWEENIE sparked a magical trajectory for us, showing us the actual potential in our beautiful boy, rather than the deficiency that others perceive in him because he can’t express himself in recognised, neurotypical ways. It also has given us so many moments of unbridled joy and discovery that I don’t have the words to convey their significance in our lives.
Ultimately, FRANKENWEENIE is the tale of a boy who is different, isolated and misunderstood. The boy loses himself in film, and the adults find themselves as he shows them what love really is. In this way, and every other way, FRANKENWEENIE is the film of our lives.
My thanks to Picturehouse for sponsoring these special autism-friendly screenings, and for sharing this story.