After watching the immensely disappointing Dark Shadows (also released in 2012), Frankenweenie seems to have redeemed Tim Burton, even if it’s only just. I still left the movie feeling somewhat underwhelmed at watching a young boy resurrect his dead dog instead of actually making human friends. But I suppose it’s difficult to make human friends when all the kids in your neighbourhood seem to be the offspring of classic monster characters. There’s a young Igor, a young fortune teller of sorts (who predicts people’s futures based on the shape of her pet cat’s poop), and also a young I’m-not-quite-sure-what-he-is, but he’s tall, lanky, and seems to be the living version of a much younger Frankenstein’s monster. What strikes me as interesting is that if all these kids are to be considered strange and abnormal, why is there a Japanese and an obese kid as well? In what way do they belong with the rest?
Nevertheless, Frankenweenie (which is a stop motion remake of Burton’s 1984 original short film of the same name) is entertaining. Is it as entertaining as some of Burton’s earlier stop motion films like Corpse Bride? No. But it passes.
This is the story: Victor (Charlie Tahan) is a socially awkward young man who has no friends except for his pet dog, Sparky. He lives in a town called New Holland — which has a sign on the hill much like Hollywood does — and, like I mentioned above, attends a high school filled with oddballs. One day, Sparky gets hit by a car and dies. Devastated, Victor brings him back to life a-la-Frankenstein (Victor’s last name is indeed Frankenstein) and is once again happy. But when his classmates try to steal his groundbreaking idea and resurrect pets of their own, everything goes haywire and their mutated, demonic creations wreak havoc on the cosy little town.
Burton and his team return to familiar territory with Frankenweenie. In terms of stop motion prowess, the animation has never looked better. When you’ve had years and years of practice at perfecting an art that’s so painstaking, you’ll eventually hit your mark, and there’s smoothness here in the stop motion that doesn’t exist on Corpse Bride. The filmmaking aspects too are quite exquisite. Take for example the cinematography. There’s a scene in the pet graveyard where Victor and his parents are burying the recently deceased Sparky. Burton uses the black and white screen and the grey of his gloomy sky to really emphasize the melancholy of his characters, and it’s really quite nice to look at.
The movie’s good elsewhere too. I really enjoyed the Igor character (whose name is Edgar). Despite his cunning ways, he actually has innocent intentions and is the only one of Victor’s classmates I cared about. And then the movie begins to lack in areas. Mr Rzykruski (Martin Landau), Victor’s science teacher, is a character recycled from previous student-based films; eccentric but brilliant mentor is fired for using unorthodox teaching methods but not before delivering some words of wisdom to our hero. Think School Of Rock.
The film’s climax seems a bit too well staged for me, that every single mutated creature congregates in the exact same spot without prior planning; they demolish a town fair. And it would’ve been nice to have some explanation as to how Victor manages to rig his attic perfectly in order to perform the resurrection. How does he know all the formulas and procedures? Is it an inherently quality just because his name is Frankenstein?
All these little issues build up, and when my impression of Burton has been dented deeply by Dark Shadows, Frankenweenie hasn’t done enough to mend it. It’s a good start, yes, but given Burton’s horrendous string of movies recently (Alice In Wonderland’s another one), I don’t see him falling back into my good books anytime soon. I’m just glad he didn’t use Johnny Depp this time round.
Best Moment | I don’t think there is one…
Worst Moment | The climax. The pets returning as deformed spawns of satan is already bad enough, but to have them magically rendezvous at the same town fair borders on unbelievable.