[Review] – Frankenweenie

15 Oct

Title: Frankenweenie
Year: 2012
Director: Tim Burton
Writer: John August, based on the screenplay for the 1984 short by Leonard Ripps which was based on an original idea by Tim Burton
Starring: Charlie Tahan, Frank Welker, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Robert Capron, Atticus Shaffer
MPAA Rating: PG, thematic elements, scary images and action
Runtime: 87 min
IMDb Rating: 7.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 87%
Metacritic: 75

Okay, so first things first, the original Frankenweenie, the 30-minute short from 1984, is seen by most as Tim Burton‘s debut (though he had done a six-minute stop-motion one called Vincent in 1982). The film displayed all of Mr. Burton’s tendencies that have become so famous (and infamous, at times) by now, working both as parody and homage to the Frankenstein tale he loved so much, being a story about a boy who loved his dog and who, after the pup died, used science to reanimate him back to life.

Now, for those who don’t know the full story, Mr. Burton started out in the industry as an animator and storyboard artist at Disney back in the early 80’s, where he made Vincent and Frankenweenie. However, after Frankenweenie he was fired, with Disney claiming that he had wasted the company’s resources (the short had a $1 million budget) on a film that he had sold as kid-friendly (it was original set to premiere before a re-release of Pinocchio) but that was far too dark and scary for the younger members of the audience. Mr. Burton then left Disney and, as they say, the rest is history.

Of course Mr. Burton eventually went back to Disney, with the studio being the one behind his billion-dollar hit that was Alice in Wonderland back in 2010 and they’ve teamed up again to remake his 1984 short into a black-and-white stop-motion film. On the one hand, I guess what’s become of this film now kind of proved Disney was right, as this one’s been really struggling at the box office, even though kids now are way more used to these sorts of films than they were back in the mid-eighties and Mr. Burton is a household name. On the other hand, though, Frankenweenie really does work as a return to form of sorts for a director I was once a pretty big fan of.

I mean, really, there are some Tim Burton films which are just impeccable, from Edward Scissorhands to Big Fish to his take on Batman or, my personal favorite of his, the superb Ed Wood. But the fact remains that as of late it seemed like he was taking a really bad road, with his movies feeling like either just cash grabs, excuses he came up with to chill with Johnny Depp and get paid, or both. The last film of his that I enjoyed was 2007’s Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which I admittedly loved, but Alice in Wonderland left me thoroughly underwhelmed, no matter how big a fan of the source material I may be, and then this year’s Dark Shadows I somehow gave a B- to upon seeing but really deserves a worse grade.

Like I said, though, let us rejoice because it really does feel like Frankenweenie has gotten Mr. Burton’s creative juices flowing again, going back, in the most literal of ways, to his roots, to tackling on what moved him artistically nearly three decades ago, to stop-motion, the art form he so loves and champions. It really is pure Tim Burton what we get here, from the passion for the horror genre tropes that shows in spades even when he’s mocking them, to the exquisitely unique visual style that seemed over-done in his past couple of films, and to the fact that, in the end, all spectacle aside, his film is just a heartfelt story about an outcast. Good to have you back, sir.

Because that’s something really quite important here, the fact that no matter how visually imposing this film is you get the sense that Mr. Burton’s always so deeply tuned into the emotional backbone of the story that you really do get to connect with Victor Frankenstein, voiced by Charlie Tahan, the young kid who dabbles as filmmaker and scientist and his dog Sparky. Victor’s dad, voiced by Martin Short, is worried that his kid spends most of his time by himself so he gets him try out baseball, which he does, hits a home run and Sparky is killed by a car as he went off chasing the ball.

It’s a truly fantastic result what we get from that formula, one that makes you laugh and feel as you get these awesome little nods to horror classics and, most importantly, while his last couple of films really felt like Tim Burton imitating Tim Burton this feels like Tim Burton being Tim Burton, one of those dark and twisted tales only he could have come up with. Plus it just looks damn cool, that kind of town that you know from his early films, with the black-and-white used so damn well to let you know these are pretty macabre surroundings you’re digging into and an awesome voice cast that does his bidding to perfection, including a reunion with my beloved Winona Ryder who voices Elsa van Helsing, Victor’s neighbor/classmate/love interest.

Frankenweenie edges out (by the tiniest of bits) ParaNorman to become my favorite animated film of the year so far. What I love is that the two are stop-motion films that are grounded in the horror genre, I just love that movies like these are being made. What I also love is the fact that Tim Burton’s back, making films that speak to him and not to his wallet, though of course if he needs to make one big cash-cow in order to then get a greenlight to make this movie that probably won’t make anyone that much money (if any) then that’s good too, I’m just glad we got this from him in the year that a few months ago kind of saw me losing faith in him.

Grade: A-


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