Frankenweenie Movie Review
Tim Burton’s best film in years.
These days, it seems like the name Tim Burton has become sort of a joke. Sure, he’s made some of history’s greatest films, but in recent times his work has been much more mediocre than it has been in the past. Dark Shadows wasn’t exactly a good forecast of what the future might hold for Burton either, because that ended up being one of my least favorite films of the year. Still, his latest animated effort Frankenweenie signaled a beacon of hope for us film fanatics because he has a strong background in animation (in fact, he got his career start as a Disney animator), and I imagined that this film would be a personal and heartfelt project for him since it is a remake of his live action short of the same name. Is Tim Burton’s latest attempt at animation a riveting monster mash, or was it a bad decision to resurrect one of his oldest stories?
In the 1970s, there lived a kid named Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) who lived in a town called New Holland. He is the definition of a nerdy shut-in, for he spends most of his time in the alone working on scientific experiments and short films rather than making some friends. Despite this, he has a friend that any young boy can connect with: a loyal dog named Sparky. Unfortunately for Victor, though, one fateful day Sparky is killed after being run over by a car, leading to a seemingly endless depression. The days pass by slowly, and then in school one day an experiment is conducted in which his eccentric teacher Mr. Mzykruski (Martin Landau) sends electric pulses through a frog corpse, briefly re-animating it as its legs twitched and reacted to the shocks. This of course inspires Victor to dig up Sparky’s grave, bring his corpse back home, and then use his attic to resurrect him during a lightning storm. He of course succeeds at this, but Victor then realizes that he must keep Sparky’s resurrection a secret as to not spark panic amongst the townsfolk, create mistrust amongst his parents (Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara) and also jeopardize the impending science fair at New Holland Elementary…
Unsurprisingly, Frankenweenie has nearly all of those Burtonesque clichés we have come to expect from his films (except for Johnny Depp): creepy atmosphere, whimsical nature, strange protagonist, the list goes on. However, the thing that sets apart Frankenweenie from most of Tim Burton’s most recent films is that it’s heartfelt and lovingly-crafted. This results in perhaps the best movie that Tim Burton has made in years. While watching Frankenweenie, I could honestly see that he adored this material and wanted to share a very fun but meaningful story, and it shows because this film is both entertaining and emotional. The emotional aspect of this film of course comes from the relationship between Victor and Sparky, and it’s definitely a great one to be sure. Anyone that has ever lost a pet – let alone a dog – will be able to relate to his character, but even if you haven’t experienced this before I can guarantee that you will feel something for Victor due to how honestly his sorrow is portrayed on screen. Their relationship also factors into other struggles characters have later on in the film, all leading up to one riveting, emotional climax. Themes of motive vs. consequence and science also factor in, making for a story that I’m glad to say is accessible to both children and adults – perhaps even more so for the grown-up audiences. This also leads into one of the most surprisingly good aspects of Frankenweenie, which is that the script manages to cleverly balance fright and fun. It doesn’t quite reach the same level of scariness and hilarity as ParaNorman, but there are definitely some frightening images that come up on screen at times. Nonetheless, such moments are not treated seriously (thankfully) and result in more of a frightfully fun parody of monster movies.
Frankenweenie tends to be very funny in a subtle way as well, because it is not necessarily a comedy, but there are certainly plenty of visual gags and clever dialogue that mesh well with the many references to classic horror. That’s not to say that Frankenweenie is perfect though, because despite its strengths the story is extremely predictable. One of my main fears going into this film was that the story would lose focus after Sparky’s resurrection, and in some ways it does. The story simply becomes less compelling since the stakes are somewhat lame, but nonetheless I was still impressed that Tim Burton and screenwriter/recurring collaborator John August were able to come up with enough reasons for the story to continue. Overall, the story of Frankenweenie is surprisingly funny, scary, heartfelt and lovingly-written all simultaneously.