Release date: October 17th, 2012
Director: Tim Burton
Starring: Charlie Tahan, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Winona Ryder, Martin Landau, Atticus Shaffer
For some people, Tim Burton has become a bad name, signalling repetitive and mediocre films that only die-hard fans of the auteur would defend. But here lies Frankenweenie, the brain child of Burton which previously found life as a live-action short with the same name. Both the simple story of a child’s wish for his dog to still live and a salute to cinema of old; Frankenweenie is a charming film with the fluttering heart of youthful innocence.
The feature length film has allowed the world of Frankenweenie to be expanded, the same way the poem that inspired The Nightmare Before Christmas grew in the making of the film. The protagonist, Victor (Charlie Tahan), is an introverted young boy who lives a happy life until his dog, Sparky, dies in a tragic accident. Spurred on by the science lessons taught by Mr Rzykruski (Martin Landau), Victor decides to subvert natural laws and bring his dog back to life. However, soon Victor’s classmates catch wind of Victor’s experiment and decide to copy in a bid to win the science fair with disastrous results.
In stark contrast to other, more chaotic and colourful, animated features of late, Frankenweenie uses a lot of time to build character development in a more natural way. The only problem with this is the lack of action in the majority of the film. While the slow, stroll-like pace is refreshing, it does mean most of the film is quickly forgotten as less interesting scenes are overshadowed by the dramatic climax.
As for the character designs themselves, there’s no denying their origins as Tim Burton’s sketches. While Victor is essentially a tiny version of Victor Van Dort from Corpse Bride and Elsa (Winona Ryder) is clearly channelling Lydia from Beetlejuice, there’s something quaint and funny about the lovely Weird Girl (actual credit name) with the large wide eyes – not quite seeing you, but through you and perhaps into the space-time continuum. Place her alongside Sparky’s not fully-coloured-in ears and it’s like the original sketches have to come to life.
In fact, Frankenweenie as a whole feels and looks a little raw, not in a bad way but as another layer of the the old-fashioned feel the film is going for. Since the opening scene is of Victor and his parents watching a home made film, you are instantly made aware of the film as a product. This awareness is then present in every reference made, which can be both entertaining and slightly distancing as moments are spent remembering other films rather than concentrating on the current one.
With bizarre and interesting children that have a thirst for science set against “ordinary” adults and an idyllic 50’s suburb reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands, this is undeniably a film about Burton and his innate difference – one that celebrates thinking differently: scientifically or otherwise. Frankenweenie is sweet, charming, weird and visually gorgeous, but while you can’t deny the steadily beating heart behind it, this deeply personal project fails to be Burton’s best. Though perhaps a few budding scientists and film makers will be awoken in those not afraid to watch a black and white film.