Film: ‘Frankenweenie’ brings Burton’s career back to life

By Will Ashton |
Frankenweenie | Directed by Tim Burton | Rated PG

Ladies and gentlemen, Tim Burton is finally back.

After underwhelming performances with his last two features, Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows, and after making one of the best films in his resume, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Burton returns back to his former glory with his new film, Frankenweenie.

A stop-motion animated film based on a short film he made early in his career, the film follows Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan), a young boy isolated by the world he lives in, who only finds companionship through his caring parents and his loyal dog, Sparky. Victor grows his love of science and making short films with Sparky as the protagonist.

One day, when attempting to please his father and join the baseball team, he loses track of Sparky, who runs onto the street and gets hit by a nearby car. Devastated by the lost, Victor destines himself to bring his dog to life through his hometown of New Holland’s constant formation of lightning. He digs up his dead dog and attempts to give him life once again, and, magically, he is able to restore his best friend once again. He attempts to keep this a secret, but a secret like this can only stay hidden for so long before his classmates and neighbors catch word of his new creation.

Without a doubt, Frankenweenie is the most passionate and creative Burton has been in years.  Judging by the amount of heart brought into not only the story, but also the uniquely hilarious character designs and visual style presented in the movie, we can see that this movie carries more inspiration in Burton than he has had in the past few years.

This is likely because this is the most personal film that Burton has made in a long time, maybe ever.  Looking into the character of Victor, we can see many similarities to him and Burton’s childhood. His, and the film’s, love of black-and-white monster movies and, most likely, his dedication to a childhood pet is able to be reflected into the main protagonist, and therefore we, the audience, are able to emotionally be connected into his story and quest.

In addition to the film’s strong emotion connection, the film’s simple, but strong, script by John August is able to challenge heavy topics like morality, playing God, and the practicality of science in a way that’s honest and smart, while also not slowing the film down or over-boggling it with heavy-handed metaphors.

Looking back at another film released this year similar to Frankenweenie, ParaNorman, I believe that, while ParaNorman is indeed a good film, that Frankenweenie ultimately ends up being the movie that it wanted to be.  Shot completely in black-and-white, Frankenweenie is able to harken back to the monster and horror films of the ‘50s and early ‘60s with enough love and tongue-on-cheek that it plays itself off nicely as both a homage and parody of these films in equal balance.

While ParaNorman also held a strong emotional connection, and gave a strong sense of character, it also felt at times like it was losing track of what it was supposed to be, or what it set up to be, from the beginning.  Frankenweenie never forgets what it is and what it wants to be.  Both films touch on very similar themes of death and referencing earlier horror films, but ParaNorman loses this during the second act, saving itself by remembering what it was intended to be, mostly, around the third act.

Not to mention that this film is animated beautifully, and the use of black-and-white is able to show the dimensions and hidden detailed touches added to the characters more clearly.  Being the lover of stop-motion animation, or Claymation, that I am, it’s wonderful to see that we have not one, not two, but three different ones that came out this year.  But looking back at each, The Pirates! Band of Misfits and the aforementioned ParaNorman, I feel that this is unquestionably the best of the three.

The film does carry some flaws.  While the film is very funny throughout, it also feels the tendency to go for poor gross out jokes, making the film somewhat uneven comically between jokes such as these and its natural dark humor.  Additionally, there is one supporting character in this film that, I’m pretty sure, is borderline racist for no particular reason and also the ending, sadly, decides to go soft despite the themes and plot leading to go otherwise.  But, hey, it’s Disney.  What was I suppose to expect?  I should be grateful that both of Victor’s parents are alive.

In his first effort directing a stop-motion film by himself (he co-directed Corpse Bride with Mike Johnson), Burton proves that there’s both life and creativity to be found within the filmmaker.  Much like the film’s title character’s journey, Burton’s career has been given the chance to get struck by lightning and to be brought back to life.  Tim Burton, welcome back.


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