Frankenweenie brings Burton back to life
Frankenweenie’s mixture of the macabre and the quirky is vintage Tim Burton. By Lance Harris.
Tim Burton has always been a bit of a hit-and-miss director, but he has missed the mark far more often than he has hit it in recent years. Thankfully, Frankenweenie has Burton more or less on target again with its mixture of retro-Gothic style and childlike fancy.
Frankenweenie, Burton’s second film for 2012 after the rather forced and stale Dark Shadows, is a black-and-white stop-motion animated film about a boy who loves his dog enough to bring it back from the dead.
The film is a remake of Burton’s 1984 short film of the same name — a production that got Burton fired by Disney over its ghoulish premise back then.
Frankenweenie channels quite a few of Burton’s other films from the past 30 years in its 90-minute running time, including Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and Ed Wood.
Frankenweenie introduces us to young Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan), who lives in the suburban idyll of New Holland with his parents. With his geeky interests in science and making Super 8 films, Victor is a bit of an outcast. That suits him just fine, since he has all the companionship he needs in his beloved dog Sparky.
When Sparky is killed in an accident, Victor does what anyone bearing his family name would do and finds a way to bring his pet back from the grave. But when some of Victor’s schoolmates find out about his secret, he needs to face the unintended consequences of his meddling with the forces of nature (cue dramatic organ music).
Frankenweenie is a lot cheerier than the premise may suggest, similar in tone to The Corpse Bride and The Nightmare before Christmas (which Burton co-wrote and produced, but didn’t direct). Though the scene where Sparky meets his demise will upset children, Frankenweenie’s barrage of antic chases, visual puns and comic dialogue quickly dispels any lingering melancholy.
One of Frankenweenie’s strongest selling points is its superb visual design, closely modelled around the look and feel of the classic Universal monster movies. The grotesque but cute character and creature designs are especially delightful. There’s a schoolteacher who looks like Vincent Price; a poodle with a Bride of Frankenstein hairstyle; and a hunchbacked school kid named Edgar “E” Gore.
The characters are brought to life by some strong voice acting. It’s great to see Burton look beyond favourites Helena-Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp for acting talent for a change — their presence is one of the factors that have made Burton’s films feel a bit tired and predictable in recent years.
Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short — as Victor’s caring but bumbling parents and a few other roles each besides — deliver their lines with aplomb and Winona Ryder resurfaces in the sort of role she might have played for Burton 20 years ago.
But the standout is Martin Landau, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood in 1995. Here, he plays Charlie’s eccentric teacher, Mr Rzykruski, who frightens and enrages the townsfolk by filling their children’s brains with esoteric scientific knowledge dispensed in a thick Eastern European accent.
Frankenweenie breaks no new ground for Burton and lacks the emotional depth of Big Fish or Ed Wood. But his affection for the Universal monster movies of the 1930s and 1940s leaves an imprint on every lovingly crafted frame of the film, making its charms hard to resist.
It feels like the first Burton film in a long time where the director’s heart is truly in it, the first one in a while where his blend of the whimsical, the sentimental and the morbid feels fresh, witty and unforced. — (c) 2012 NewsCentral Media
- See the full versions of early Tim Burton short films Vincent and the original Frankenweenie on YouTube