Tim Burton has created so many fun and wonderful universes over the years. However, it isn’t until now, in the feature length adaptation of his short film of the same name, that Burton takes us to a place he’s rarely let us see – his childhood. Made purely with kids in mind, and as this is a Disney film, Frankenweenie is a heart-warming kid friendly flick full of Burton’s patented frights, fun and his distinctive look. Still slightly odd-ball, he goes a little esoteric and the result is a playful mash up of two things he’s very familiar with; his love of monster movies and the pressures of being an awkward kid in school.
When Young Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) loses his beloved dog in a car accident he uses the lessons learned from his science class to bring Sparky back to life. It’s a success (to some degree) but his new experiment doesn’t stay secret for very long as Sparky’s revival brings the attention of his classmates eager to win the upcoming science fair. Similarly it raises awareness of the parents who deem the kid’s teacher a crackpot and while the parents are somewhat occupied ousting the foreigner, the kids are left to their own devices. The competing students take Victor’s experiment and recreate it to some adverse affects. With monster pets let lose on the town it’s up to guess who to save New Holland? Yes Victor and Sparky.
A love letter to the classic monster movies, every character has references to classic Universal films and serials. Burton takes familiar elements and lays them over a kid-centric story to much delight. The animated style of story telling lets the voice talents really push the characters and they almost come to life thanks to the spot on casting with the likes of Catherine O’ Hara, Martin Short and the special ingredient Martin Landau who all too easily channeled Vincent Price in his portrayal of the Russian science teacher Mr. Rzykruski.
No Button film would be complete without Danny Elfman who brings real weight to the story as well as succeeds in plucking a few heart strings. His familiar bum bum diddly diddly are scaled down and his music gives substance to multiple elements like a young love theme (both for Victor and Sparky’s respective female interests) the whimsy and excitement of being a kid and the inevitable run for your lives panic to be expected in any monster movie. He’s a staple in the Burtonverse and it’s always a treat to hear what he adds to the film.
More than a long awaited return to the kinds of films he likes to make and made him famous it’s nice to see this passion project come to life…again. Although it’s funny that at one time Burton and Disney parted ways creatively, but like the prodigal son returning they seem to have a good working relationship now. Well a billion dollar movie tends to smooth over problems doesn’t it?
Burton’s films have a look and over the years he’s given us some of the most fantastic visual experience/environments replete with his signature stamp on every singe frame. Frankenweenie is a gorgeous stop-frame film that takes the medium to levels as the 3D is used to really put us in this world. But it’s also done with purpose and very judiciously so we don’t feel like it’s hitting us over the head. Some might argue the need for the 3D but here it’s more than a gimmick because Burton uses it showcase the work that took animators soooo long to create. Remember, no matter the advances in film, this medium is created one frame at a time. After all these years, Frankenweenie is alive and it’s so much fun.