Directed by Tim Burton
Written by John August, based on a movie by Tim Burton and Leonard Ripps
It’s hard to believe that it’s been 5 years since Sweeney Todd, and there’s only been two Tim Burton movies between then and this year’s Frankenweenie: Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows. I actually enjoyed Alice in Wonderland, despite its significant flaws, but even as a Tim Burton fan I couldn’t get excited about Dark Shadows. On the other hand, Frankenweenie, a stop-motion remake of Burton’s own live-action short film, is pure Tim Burton.
Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) is a young boy who loves his dog Sparky. When Sparky dies in a car accident, he can’t let him go. Accidental encouragement from his science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau) and his parents (Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara) leads him to perform the classic experiment and bring Sparky back to life.
The film really stands on the fact that it’s a true return to form for Tim Burton. This is right back in that dark but quirky atmosphere that’s made him famous. Some of the elements even seem like homages to Burton’s own movies, like a suburbia similar to Edward Scissorhands. Using both stop-motion and black-and-white gives the movie a tone that’s distinct but still familiar, in a good way. An atmosphere that’s unsettling but easy to get into. He builds worlds on contradictions, and here it’s the mix of a normal suburbia filled with off-beat characters, the happiness of life that’s hit by death. There’s an instant sympathy about Victor’s feelings towards Sparky’s death, and a wish fulfillment for the audience in bringing him back to life.
While it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the original Frankenweenie (and I remember it absolutely terrifying me as a kid), the basic plot remains intact. The second and third acts are where things are changed up a little more, thanks to Edgar “E” Gore (Atticus Shaffer) finding out about Sparky and getting the other kids to replicate the experiments on different animals. The film becomes a full homage to the classic Universal monster movies. Somehow the more comedic and action-packed finale doesn’t necessarily take away from the rest of the movie. Instead it only helps to fill in the gaps on its message about science, and how it’s only good or evil depending on who’s using it. It’s the lack of knowledge on the part of the other kids that causes the problems. At the same time, this provides a great showcase for the supporting cast. The way every character is styled makes them instantly unique, and the black and white just helps to accent their features.
Frankenweenie is a fully enjoyable movie. It may not reach the heights of Burton’s best works, but at the same time, it is very much Tim Burton. Love him or hate him, this is his style, his playground, and he is doing everything that he does best here.