Frankenweenie – 2012
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring Charlie Tahan, Frank Welker, Winona Rider, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Landau, Martin Short, Robert Capron, Atticus Shaffer
Screenplay by John August
Tim Burton has occupied this strange place in Americana as “macabre for the family.” His mixture of preciousness, precociousness and comedy has been imitated, but not as often as his fans might claim. Still, there are legions of fans about the basements of the U.S. who think that he speaks for them. Picturing themselves as outsiders in the comfortable parts of suburbia, their eyes sparkle when they see their normal looking outsider obsess, while not so normal “normal” people peer in and judge.
This time around, it’s a re-creation of a short film he made in 1984 that got him fired from Disney after it was made. It became stuff of legend and was eventually released on video a decade later, it is a loose recreation of Frankenstein, only the thing brought back this time is the family dog. Everything here is animated in that same droll black and white that he’s done in his other films, The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride. Like those other films, there are plenty of dead (and dead looking) things to go around. Somehow, this is made cute. I am not sure I am convinced of its cuteness. Enough people disagree with me however, I think my meter may be off.
There is no shortage of odd characters laced throughout. Many of them are variations on those he uses in all of his films, though a girl who reads fortunes from cat crap might be original. For such a creepy premise, the execution is alright. It’s kind of tiresome to see a world in which the kids are all such weary old souls and the adults so insistent on naiveté. So many times I want to scream at the screen “We get it, Tim Burton, you want the kids to feel empowered by their alienation!” There’s a mean Mayor named Burgermeister who looks like his Rankin Bass inspiration, and there is a creepy Science teacher who looks like Vincent Price. Not so creative.
When all hell breaks loose, it’s often funny, in a lightly ironic way. Many types of creepy things wreak havoc among the dead-looking living. Sparky is an entertaining title subject, and his every move is very relatable. Aside from the unfortunate design of the dead looking humans, the animation is pristine. On the plus side, there is nothing here that will keep your kids up at night. If they understand that the story of Frankenstein is just play-like and tickle-lot, they should be fine.
This film is about as good as a Tim Burton film can get. His fans will get more out of it than those who are not as enamored with his work in general. My kids eyes were glued to the screen, if that’s any indication. Then again, mine were too, when I first saw Large Marge from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. That was in the days before I paid my own bills. My imagination is still there. Just not to see the dead brought back to life as friends.
(***1/2 out of *****)