Frankenweenie Review


Frankenweenie is arguably the sweetest, most heartfelt movie Tim Burton has ever made. It’s also his strongest effort in almost a decade. Much of this likely stems from the fact that Frankenweenie was actually a short film Burton directed before he made it big, and one can’t help but think a break from the endless Johnny Depp-Helena Bonham Carter collaborations rejuvenated his creativity.

Whatever the case, Frankenweenie is a delightful film that feels both personal and universal. It’s not hard to see Burton in the shoes of the film’s main character, and the conflict that character goes through—while superficially impossible—will elicit strong emotion out of even the most cold-hearted viewer.

Victor Frankenstein (voice of Charlie Tahan) is an odd little boy whose best friend is a dog named Sparky and who spends his free time shooting homemade monster movies. Tragically, Sparky gets hit by a car one day and dies, leaving an inconsolable Victor friendless. When his science teacher—Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau)—teaches Victor and his classmates about the true potential of electric power, the young boy is intrigued. Could he reanimate Sparky a la Frankenstein? It turns out he can, but the unforeseen consequences are much more than he bargained for.

Frankenweenie was, of course, filmed in black and white using stop-motion animation. It’s Burton’s third stop-motion film, and he’s honed the craft in such a way that you wouldn’t miss live-action Burton if he decided to retire. It’s a gorgeous movie with spectacular character detail. Particularly noteworthy were Victor’s splendidly macabre classmates with their protruding eyes and rotund bellies. Some of them might not have but three lines, yet their appearance and mannerisms make them as defined as Victor, Sparky, or anyone else in the film.

Burton packs his film full of horror movie references that will definitely please adults (if they don’t get too pissed off by how decidedly kid-unfriendly this animated movie is). The Bride of Frankenstein is an obvious source of inspiration, as is Dracula. This film does for horror what Rango did for the Western last year. It also has a lot in common with films like Super 8 that praise the art of moviemaking, even in its crudest form.

The crew of voice actors Burton has assembled are relatively unremarkable with one exception. Martin Landau delivers lines like an absolute champ. He’s channeling the late Vincent Price (whom Burton directed a short about around the same time he made the Frankenweenie short), and he does so expertly. Meanwhile, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, and young Charlie Tahan are adequate. Christopher Lee also has a fun voice role, though he’s only around for a cameo.

The last time a Burton film worked this well was Big Fish—another movie that was big on emotion and didn’t rely quite as much on Burton’s signature touches to slide through narrative rough patches. Corpse Bride was another solid, post-millennial Burton film, which of course shares a lot in common with Frankenweenie. Why he decided to return to this material now is unclear, but the end result makes you wonder why he didn’t do it sooner. This is a better-than-solid movie overall and absolutely one of 2012’s finest animated efforts.

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