Having earned his stripes as an animator for Walt Disney Pictures, the studio graciously allowed Tim Burton to direct a short film, VINCENT in 1982, followed in 1984 by his black-and-white, live-action short FRANKENWEENIE, a tribute to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the classic monster-movie genre. Now, thirty years later, Burton has finally realized his dream of making a full-length version of that short film, more in line with his original concept, characters and drawings. Still in black-and-white, his stop-motion animated feature is enhanced by 3D, and FRANKENWEENIE finally makes a long-awaited comeback.
The film tells of schoolboy Victor Frankenstein, a passionate hobby film maker, who loves only one thing more than making movies: his dog Sparky. When Sparky is run over chasing a ball into the street, Victor is heartbroken. But luckily in Mr. Rzykruski’s biology class, the effects of electricity on dead frogs is on the curriculum, which inspires Victor to turn what he has just learned into reality and bring his beloved pet back to life. With the aid of all kinds of household appliances and a mighty storm, Victor succeeds in doing the impossible and brings Sparky back from the dead. And he seems normal, too. Well, as normal as a patchwork dog can be, I guess. But just as playful and affectionate as hitherto.
Obviously the whole thing has to remain top secret, for Victor is sure that neither his parents nor the other residents of New Holland would appreciate or applaud his having successfully defied the laws of nature. So it’s a pity that his classmate Edgar Gore, of all people, should stumble on his secret and demand that Victor repeat his experiment on Edgar’s dead goldfish in exchange for keeping his mouth shut. Victor reluctantly agrees and thus sets events in motion that will soon plunge the whole town into chaos…
With more than 2,000 puppets, 200 sets and 1,300 visual effects over a period of several years, together with many of his CORPSE BRIDE team, Burton has created a delightful B-Movie tribute, chock full of nostalgic Sci-Fi and horror movie references, voiced by his veteran cast, including Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau and Winona Ryder. Although Johnny Depp, who starred in eight of his films to date, is conspicuously absent.
Even though Burton succeeds in extending the short story to feature film length and presents a good mixture of simple, yet effective humor and some emotional moments, in the end, the movie still lacks that certain “something”. Don’t get me wrong, FRANKENWEENIE is entertaining, charming and extremely funny, and without doubt, Burton’s best offering since CORPSE BRIDE. But it’s missing that certain seditious bite that made Burton’s earlier work so special. On the other hand, compared to many of the other contemporary animated films for children, this 3D adventure, visually at least, is more than a welcome change. Burton has placed more value on the story and fleshing out his characters than on crude humor and violent, roller-coaster effects.
Tim Burton’s lovingly-bizarre world is lots of fun for all and it is to be hoped that not too many parents will be put off by the black-and-white visuals and the somewhat old-fashioned story. FRANKENWEENIE is a fun film for children of all ages. Nominated for a BAFTA, Golden Globe and an Oscar as Best Animated Feature, the movie is up against some serious contenders, including Disney/Pixar’s BRAVE and the very original – and likewise “dark” – PARANORMAN.
FRANKENWEENIE (USA 2012); Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures; Running time: 87 mins; Director: Tim Burton; Writers: Tim Burton (original idea); Leonard Ripps; John August (screenplay); Main cast (Voices): Charlie Tahan, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder; Composer: Danny Elfmann; Release dates: 5.October, 2012 (US) / 24. January, 2013 (Germany); Rated PG
For further info and trailer see: www.frankenweenie.de