Starring Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan, Atticus Shaffer, Winona Ryder, Robert Capron, James Hiroyuki Liao, Conchata Ferrell
Directed by Tim Burton
Expectations: Fairly low. I’m only watching this because my girlfriend thought I should see it because I love the Universal Monster movies.
The simple fact of Frankenweenie‘s existence as a 2012 feature brings up some questions in my mind. Having spent the last decade or so making adequate to poor movies, Tim Burton decided to return to his roots and remake his 1984 short film, Frankenweenie. It’s a great idea for a film, and with the short never having the release it deserved, this version of Frankenweenie represents a good way for fans to experience this inspired homage to the Universal Monster movies from the young/old mind of Burton. But to return to his roots at such a creatively bankrupt time in his career is also somewhat distressing. Is this merely a remake aimed at eliciting some response from those that grew up adoring the likes of Beetlejuice, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure or Batman?
The answer, for me, was a bit of both. Frankenweenie is a gloriously made film, perfectly evocative of the era it seeks to recreate and pay homage to. At the same time, it also seems to be aimed directly at fans already familiar with his work, with visual, audio and story references to his previous, iconic works. But despite my reservations, this resurrected version of Frankenweenie does have that old Burton magic throughout. It’s easily his best film in years, and one hopes that this is a sign of things to come in the future. The fact that his next film will reunite him with the Ed Wood screenwriters for a biopic starring Christoph Waltz and Amy Adams definitely piques my interest more than most of this other recent films have.
Frankenweenie isn’t without issues, though. Its biggest failing is that being a feature expanded from a short, it spends a lot of time away from the leads, Sparky and Victor. As that relationship is the driving force of the film, whenever we’re away from it the film feels a little unfocused. Sure, these abundant sub-plots eventually all connect into something pretty entertaining (I won’t spoil anything), but I did wonder more than once what Victor or Sparky were doing at the time. It’s not a huge problem as the film is always entertaining, but it definitely left me less than engaged and knocked the film down from the 3½ I had prepared to give it.
Animation-wise, Frankenweenie is incredible. It rests somewhere in between the organic, stop-motion look of The Nightmare Before Christmas and the too-perfect, mechanical puppets of The Corpse Bride. Here it’s ever-present that you’re watching a traditional stop-motion film, especially in certain character’s mouth movements while talking. I’m sure this could bother those that don’t care for stop-motion, but I loved it. It helps to ground the film as a homage to long-past times, even if certain dialogue lines make it clear that the film is supposed to be set in the modern day (which was kinda weird, but whatever).
And the voice acting is equally well-done. Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short, two of my favorite comedic performers, play multiple roles each and do a fantastic job. Martin Landau also stands out as the science teacher, especially in a darkly hilarious scene when he addresses the town council about his aims as a science teacher. I’m not really one to talk much about acting, but in an animated film the voices are paramount to its success and the entire cast of Frankenweenie does a stellar job.
But by far my favorite aspect of the production is its black and white cinematography. It looks absolutely perfect. The image composition is especially well-done, with nearly every shot being one you might want to screen-cap and use as a picture in an online review for your blog. 🙂 It also perfectly recreates the feel of the classic Universal Monster films (and others) at times. This was a shoe-in for an animated film Oscar nomination, but I would’ve loved to have seen it get nominated for cinematography too. It really is at that level of excellence.
I really enjoyed Frankenweenie, even if its story is a little stretched out and unfocused at times. Tim Burton fans will enjoy it, and kids who enjoy monster movies will definitely get a kick out of it as well. It seemed a little much for young kids, but I don’t have any kids so what do I know? Check it out, horror comedy fans, it’s worth your while.