***1/2 (out of 5)
October 5, 2012
Catherine O’Hara as MRS. FRANKENSTEIN
Martin Short as MR. FRANKENSTEIN
Martin Landau as MR. RZYKRUSKI
Winona Ryder as ELSA VAN HELSING
Charlie Tahan as VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN
Atticus Shaffer as EDGAR ‘E’ GORE
Directed by: Tim Burton
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
There was a time when uttering the name of Tim Burton got mostly praise from critics rather than the groans and eye rolls it gets now. This was a simpler time, twenty or more years ago when the director’s signature gothic style was new, and he hadn’t made a string of remakes and reboots.
Yet, over the years, Tim Burton has fallen on hard times, at least critically speaking. Applying his gothic look to literally everything he does, he developed his own brand of hackdom, often partnering with Johnny Depp and putting that spin on a variety of properties, from the “Planet of the Apes” franchise to “Alice in Wonderland.”
Personally, I have always liked Tim Burton, and I’ve enjoyed most of his movies. But I can see where this criticism comes from, and I can appreciate the aggravation my colleagues feel.
“Frankenweenie” is his chance to redeem himself a little bit. While Burton has been a champion of stop-motion animation, using it early in his career for the beautiful short film “Vincent” as well as elements of “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” and “Beetlejuice.” He brought the art to feature film viability with a heavy hand in “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “James and the Giant Peach,” and more recently with “Corpse Bride.”
This is Burton’s first stop-motion piece since “Corpse Bride,” but more importantly, “Frankenweenie” is the first film since that which is not based on someone else’s work. In fact, if you look at Burton’s filmography, most of his movies are remakes or adaptations, aside from early work like “Edward Scissorhands.”
Sure, “Frankenweenie” is an adaptation of Burton’s own short film from the 80s, but while the basic story is the same, it’s essentially a new creation. And few people have actually seen that short film, so let’s give him a pass on that.
The new “Frankenweenie” tells the story of a boy named Victor, who lives in the creepy town of New Holland. One day, his dog Sparky is hit by a car and killed, sending him into despair. Inspired by his teacher, Victor uses lightning and science to bring Sparky back to life. Of course, when other students at school discover this power, they attempt to try it out themselves, and things get quickly out of hand.
Like all of Burton’s films, this is fantastic to look at. It’s creepy as hell, and were it made in the 80s, it would have been derided for being too dark and scary (much the way the original “Frankenweenie” short film was). And I suppose that it might scare the youngest of viewers, but our collective cultural tastes have become jaded enough that we should now accept Burton’s gothic design.
The story is a bit shaky at times, but that results form the film just enjoying its own environment and giving Sparky a couple adventures of his own. Fans of horror movies should like the loving homage to the old Universal monster movies of the past, including the name-checked “Frankenstein.”
I also appreciated the use of black-and-white presentation, which is a gutsy move to do nowadays. However, I suppose since Burton literally made Disney a billion dollars with “Alice in Wonderland,” they had to give him that one.
“Frankenweenie” is a perfectly charming movie. It’s not as innovative and clever as “ParaNorman” from a few months back, but it’s still a solid flick the whole family can enjoy.