Frankenweenie could be called a comeback of sorts for Tim Burton, as it is his best film since Big Fish, but I think this Burton might have always been there through the ups and downs; he just needed the perfect project to pour his talents into.
This new stop motion animated film is a remake/reboot of Burton’s original live action short of the same name which revolves around a young boy who reanimates his dead dog so he can love it again. The opening act and the ending of the film hit a lot of the same beats as the original short, but Burton does a nice job of expanding the world. The crux of the film’s drama comes from a battle among the local kids to win the school science fair. When the students discover that our protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, has resurrected his dog, they attempt to steal the science to resurrect their own animals to win the prize.
The film is full of references to not only Burton’s own short film, but many movie monster classics of our past. The imagery is lovingly folded into the town of New Holland and it is a lot of fun picking out all of the homage. Thankfully there is more to the film beyond the fun of seeing what monster films Burton loves as the film is full of both humor and heart. Most everyone can connect with the love between a boy and his dog and Victor and Sparky convey this wonderfully. Sparky himself is a wonderfully realized character who gets plenty of time to shine on his own throughout the film. Burton creates a diverse cast of characters to populate the town with Weird Girl being quite possibly the greatest creation in any of his films in some time. Burton seems to work best with original material and you can see throughout his filmography that he doesn’t handle adaptations nearly as well; Sweeny Todd aside. This film makes me pine for more original works from Burton and hopefully this film will light a creative fire under him to give us more.
Burton gets excellent work out of his voice cast and brings back some old favorites in his early work. Catherine O’Hara is great in three parts, playing a loving mother to Victor, a psychotic gym teacher and is bizarrely great as the aforementioned Weird Girl. I love O’Hara and it is a shame she hasn’t been in more stuff recently, but she steals the show here. Martin Short also plays three roles and does great; making his voice completely unrecognizable in the non-father parts. Winona Ryder, Charlie Tahan and Atticus Shaffer are also quite good as our three lead child characters with Shaffer bring the biggest standout in the E. Gore role. Martin Landau is quite amazing in a brief part as the school science teacher and I wanted to stand up and applaud his rant against those that don’t believe in science. Landau is hilarious throughout, but his in your face lecture that Burton worked up against the idiocy of going against science was a hilarious and pointed political message that I love seeing put into a kids film.
Lastly, the film’s production design and animation work is nothing short of impeccable. We have been lucky to get so many great stop-motion films over the last few years and this one could go toe to toe with any of them on a technical level. The black & white photography is perfect for the film’s setting and the use of shadow and lighting is just gorgeous. The film looks like a Burton film and never so has that look felt so right for one of his stories. The 3-D, like most stop-motion films, is top notch and well worth the extra coin if you can spare it. Danny Elfman’s score is one of his best Burton collaborations in some time and it is a joy to listen to outside of the film as well.
Frankenweenie is a wonderful little tale that overcomes its simple story with beautiful style. The film is full of creativity, humor and, most importantly, characters you will care about. Victor and Sparky’s tale is one we have seen before, but rarely is it told with such a strong heart. Weird, beautiful and often hilarious, Frankenweenie will serve as a Halloween classic for years to come.
Frankenweenie is a B+