Frankenweenie Review

Movie: Frankenweenie
By: Maniac E
Date: October 8, 2012

Back from the dead and into the new

Frankenweenie is a paradox for writer-director Tim Burton. Burton's style has become a cage. His spirals, stripes, high-contrast colors, preference for Danny Elfman's scores, and reliance on Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter made it seem like Burton had reached the limits of his creative powers. This limitation was highlighted by using it as a catch-all for any adaptation, and he's only done adaptations since 2005's Corpse Bride (and that was his only non-adaptation since 1990's Edward Scissorhands). Strangely enough, by doing a stop-motion animated adaptation of Frankenweenie based off his 1984 short film of the same name Burton has come back to his origins in a way that hasn't changed his style.

Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) is a bright and inventive school-age boy living in a small, Dutch-influenced town whose grownup inhabitants are steadfast in their fear of the unknown. Victor's only friend is a terribly ugly dog named Sparky, though he has one myotic eye on his neighbor and classmate, Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder). After Victor's father agrees to sign his science fair permission slip only if he signs up to play baseball, Sparky tags along for a game that ends in tragedy when the dog chases a ball into the street. But this wasn't the end of the dog since Victor got all his re-animator skills out and returned the dog amongst the living and a whole new story evolves. Naturally, Victor is unable to keep Sparky's resurrection a secret for long, and soon his fellow science fair hopefuls are eager to test Victor's experiment on their own lost pets. Naturally, Victor is unable to keep Sparky's resurrection a secret for long, and soon his fellow science fair hopefuls are eager to test Victor's experiment on their own lost pets.


There's a joy to Frankenweenie that's been absent from Burton's recent films. He can always get caught up in the visuals and some quirky ideas, but they've lacked a personal touch to the point where his recent movies could almost be an imitation of his earlier work. Frankenweenie returns Burton to his roots by bringing him back to the familiar neighborhoods inhabited with oddball characters who fear the abnormal even though they themselves are not bastions of normality. It's the tug-of-war between the power of imagination, the fear of it, and somewhere in between finding something heartfelt. In Frankenweenie, what's heartfelt is the simple love between a boy and his dog.


Surprisingly, the movie doesn't have enough Sparky. The movie is yet another tribute to the power of stop-motion animation in how it captures the "dogginess" of Sparky. It goes beyond tail-wagging and panting. It's in the little details like showing the happiness in Sparky's eyes, or the subtle body language that helps bring the character to life. I'm a sucker for adorable dogs, and even though he's stitched together, Sparky is a lovable pooch, and it's bizarre that the movie doesn't know how often he should be in the story.


Still, Burton's tender visual treatment of the dead animals reveals the depths of his compassion, last mined this thoroughly in "Edward Scissorhands." Sparky the dog, whose face is one only a misfit science nerd could love, is handled in death with utmost honor and care by both the film's director and its mourning owner and it feels like a gesture of kindness for the audience as well. In the end the movie is more of a thank you note to all the fans and to show them Burton did not forget his roots.


While fairly tight in its execution, Frankenweenie does go a bit over-the-top in its third act, staging an unabashed homage to classic movie monster films that while amusing lands on the side of hollow blockbuster spectacle, rather than sticking closer to the more focused emotional through line that Burton weaves up until that point. The ending of the film is also a bit more saccharine than it should be, sacrificing poignant life lessons (which it teases for all of a second) for a conclusion that's much more 'happy Hollywood' in nature. Regardless of those nitpicks, Frankenweenie is a welcome return to form for Burton, and is bonafide good time at the movies for the old, young, and everybody in between.







Tim Burton






Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short