Movie Review: Frankenweenie

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’ve got mixed feelings about the director Tim Burton, I’ve really enjoyed some of his flicks (Beetlejuice, Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow) and I do enjoy the gothic vibe and sense of humour he brings to a lot of his flicks, but there are times when I think his personal flourishes can overpower everything else and he’s made some movies I’ve really not liked (Batman Returns, Mars Attacks!, Planet of the Apes).

Burton’s last two movies, Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows, were reasonably entertaining flicks but at the same time felt rather flat, and haven’t really been emotionally engaging. But his latest flick, Frankenweenie is a very different beast.

A reworking of a short movie Burton made back in the 80s it follows the story of Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan), a quiet, clever boy who spends most of his time tinkering away in the attic on various gizmos and making little super 8 monster movies, usually starring his dog, Sparky. When Sparky is sadly killed Victor is distraught, and withdraws into himself.

However, new science teacher Mr Rzykruski’s (Martin Landau) lessons on electrical impulses inspires him to bring Sparky back to life.

Victor at work

All goes well until his classmate Edgar (Atticus Shaffer) discovers this and blackmails him into bringing back another animal, but the results aren’t quite the same, rendering the fish. Soon the secret’s out and in order to win the class science project several of his classmates attempt to copy his experiment and restore their late pets to life, with vastly different, shocking results.

The film is clearly a passion project of Burton’s and it shines throughout the film, which is an enchanting tribute to horror movies, pets, childhood and loners everywhere.

Burton on set

It’s an utterly enchanting movie, extremely heartwarming and rather sweet while also delighting in its horror movie trappings, weird creatures and a cast of supporting characters which includes some serious oddballs. The creation of all the characters shows lots of thought has gone into it and the town of New Holland is populated with a cast of oddly lovable grotesques.

The character known only as “Weird Girl”

Victor, with pale hair and scruffy black hair, is the traditional Burton hero (see Edward Scissorhands, Ichabod Crane, Victor Van Doort etc) and a lovely hero, he’s a quiet, smart loner who’s shown to be rather likable and heroic, even if he’s regarded by his classmates as something of an eccentric. He’s easy to warm to and his sadness over the loss of his dog feels 100% sincere and realistic.

Victor and the rest of the townsfolk serves to continue a theme that’s ran through Burton’s career, that the offbeat outsiders are often far more human and less monstrous than the so called “normal” people. The residents of the town are very quick to snatch up a burning torch and chase Sparky out of town, and also there’s their idiotic, knee jerk anti-science reaction. Which gives Landau’s Eastern European teacher a fantastic speech against their closed minded outlook.

Mr Rzykruski’s view that science is neither good or evil is part of the film’s major plot, Sparky is returned normal and unchanged because Victor’s motives for bringing him back are pure and made with love, whereas the actions of his classmates are motivated by greed or selfish reasons.

Burton fills the movie with references and little nods to classic horror movies, the black and white look, the Gothic styling of the graveyard is right out of Frankenstein, and there are characters who are clearly modeled on the greats of the horror genre- Boris Karloff and Vincent Price in particular. He clearly loves the genre, and the look is entirely like the great Universal horrors of the 30s.

One of several homages in the film

But its not just a stylistic choice, it also makes sense for the story. Like those old horror films the monster is incredibly sympathetic, and Sparky, the zombie dog is a wonderfully sweet character. The little plasticine canine manages to provoke more empathy than many actors and his mannerisms are brilliantly studied and full of personality.

The main feeling from the film is warmth, something Burton often lacks but here he has it in spades. Its a film that’ll speak to anyone who’s ever felt a little outside of the norm, which let’s face it is almost everyone and the story of a boy and his dog is extremely sweet. Its a brilliant film for kids, emotionally involving, gloriously attractive to look at and lots of fun.

Verdict: A hugely entertaining, charming movie which is some of the best work that Burton’s done in years. It has a quirky, slightly dark sense of humour and some bizarre, likable characters. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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