Review: Tim Burton's 'Frankenweenie'
Within five minutes of Tim Burton's Frankenweenie it's obvious this is the most enthusiastic the director's been in years. Funny how quickly things change, as just a few months ago many were lamenting his total turn to the dark side of adaptations and remakes, giving himself over to digitally recreated worlds that stifled his natural creativity. Based on Burton's own 1984 short story, which ironically got him fired from Disney the first time, the film is a welcome homecoming to the world of black and white stop-motion horror.
Maybe it's a coincidence that the two movies Burton has seemed most invested in, Frankenweenie and Big Fish, both in a large way have to do with the death of a loved one. Clearly it's a subject that hits him on a deeply personal level and inspires him the way few things can. As Burton has said in numerous interviews, the film is based in part on his own upbringing and the love he had for his own dog. Charlie Tahan voices young Victor Frankenstein, a lonely science wiz living in suburbia with his two parents and beloved dog, Sparky. Much of the film is seen through Sparky's eyes, in particular in the beginning as we are introduced to the close bond he shares with Victor. So true and special is their companionship that it's devastating when the dog is lost in a car accident.
After a few random words from his parents, and a lesson on the power of lightning from his Vincent Price-esque teacher(Martin Landau), Victor decides to bring his pooch pal back to life in a neat little twist on Mary Shelley's classic Frankenstein. Equal parts creepy and comic, Victor digs up Sparky's corpse and zaps the pup back into the realm of the pseudo-living, patched up with scraps and bolts and limbs that occasionally fall off at inopportune moments. Burton fills each gorgeously animated frame with so many wacky characters and clever in-jokes that everything about it is unforgettable. The Frankenstein's neighbors are hilariously from the Van Helsing clan, and the rest of the town kids each have their own quirky traits.
There's so much to love that you can forgive that the film begins to sag after awhile. Kids may also find many of the gory images too scary, and the subject of death is a constant presence throughout. After the disappointing and uninspiring Dark Shadows, preceded by the cold and emotionless Alice in Wonderland, Burton has tapped into that earlier version of himself who was still hungry and excited about making movies. Frankenweenie isn't just the best film Burton's done in a long time, it's poised to be a new Halloween season classic.