Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Movie Review: Frankenweenie

Directed by: Tim Burton.
Written by: John August based on the character by Tim Burton.
Starring: Catherine O'Hara (Mrs. Frankenstien / Weird Girl / Gym Teacher), Martin Short (Mr. Frankenstein / Mr. Burgemeister / Nassor), Martin Landau (Mr. Rzykruski), Winona Ryder (Elsa Van Helsing), Charlie Tahan (Victor Frankenstien), Atticus Shaffer (Edgar 'E' Gore), Robert Capron (Bob), Christopher Lee (Movie Dracula), Conchata Ferrell (Bob's Mom), James Hiroyuki Liao (Toshiaki), Tom Kenny (New Holland Townsfolk), Dee Bradley Baker (Persephone van Helsing / Shelly / Were-Rat / Colossus / Mr. Whiskers / Driver), Jeff Bennett (Giant Sea Monkeys), Frank Welker (Sparky Frankenstein).

Perhaps Tim Burton should concentrate on animation from now on. He has been the driving creative force behind three animated films so far – The Nightmare Before Christmas, A Corpse Bride and now Frankenweenie – and the three films are far more consistent in quality than the majority of his career. And animation suits his dark, visual style – which is the highlight of most of films anyway – even better than live action films. Frankenweenie may not quite reach the heights of Nightmare Before Christmas, but it still one of the most enjoyable animated films of the year – and one that feels more personal than much of Burton’s films. It is easy to see Little Victor Frankenstein, the main character of Frankenweenie, as the director himself as a child – obsessed with monster movies, death and science experiments. Frankenweenie feels like an ode to Burton’s own childhood – and it makes this film one of the best Burton has ever directed.

The movie is a feature length version of the Burton’s (live action) short that he made almost 30 years ago at the beginning of his career. In the film, Victor Frankenstein is just a regular suburban kid – lonely because he has no real friends, and spends of all of his time in the attic making ingenious little 3-D monster movies with his toys, and his beloved dog Sparky – who is his only real friend. But when Sparky is tragically killed in an accident, Victor decides to use some of the lessons learned from the strange, new science teacher Mr. Rzykruski about electricity and reanimation to good use. But of course, bringing a dog back from the dead is one thing, keeping a secret is quite another.

The movie has a wonderful visual look – in black and white, which is appropriate given that much of the movie is homage to the monster movies Burton grew up loving. Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein are both obvious references, but really only scratches the surface of the movie references that Burton makes in this film. One of the pleasures for movie buffs watching the film will be to spot as many as they can.

And yet, while many of Burton’s films have made references to the movie of the past that he loves, Frankenweenie goes beyond that – and actually crafts a heartfelt story about a boy and his dog. One of the hardest things in childhood is dealing with death – and a pet’s death is harder than most because it often hits children before they know anyone else who has died. Pets offer the kind of unconditional love that people just do not offer – and having that suddenly taken away is truly heartbreaking. Frankenweenie gets that, and tells that story with genuine emotion, that had me on the verge of tears at times – which is rare for a Burton movie, which are generally style over substance affairs.

The style, though, is great. This is one of the better 3-D movies I can remember. One of the reasons is that 3-D generally makes everything darker, and given that the movie is in black and white anyway, it doesn’t negatively affect the movie.  For another, Burton doesn’t really use the 3-D to shoot stuff directly at the audience – he uses it more to add depth than anything else. The character design leaves no doubt who directed the movie. Frankenweenie is a dark, visual delight – but one that goes deeper than most of Burton’s films do. This is one of the best animated films of the year.

1 comment:

  1. Thankfully, Burton comes back to form with this material and makes it a dark, yet heartfelt tale that never goes that extra-mile to pull on our heartstrings and tell the kiddies something new about life and death, but at least it’s pleasant enough. Hopefully, Burton can keep this winning-record going. Good review Dave.