Opening the 2012 London Film Festival, Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie has a previous incarnation as a 1984 short film. The original, which was disliked at Disney, helped pave the way for the director’s exit from the corporation at a time which Burton describes as “a low point for animation”.
But like Dr Frankenstein’s monster, Burton’s story of a young boy who attempts to regenerate his lifeless pet dog, is back from the dead; this time in the form of a 3D stop-motion, feature-length animation.
Imaginative but friendless, Victor (Charlie Tahan) spends his time creating monster movies featuring his dog Sparky. His parents worry about his isolation and insist he take up baseball as a way to make friends, leading to Sparky’s swift and untimely demise due to an unforeseen sporting mishap.
Shattered at his loss, but inspired by his eccentric science teacher, Victor concocts a plan to reanimate his lost pal via a macabre and electrifying experiment. Thankfully for Victor the plan seems to work, but the sudden reappearance of Sparky invites unwanted interest from his schoolmates keen to carry out the procedure on their own pets, unleashing a plague of monsters on Victor’s sleepy little slice of suburbia.
It’s always nice to see a children’s film deal with ghoulish subject matter, and Burton’s heart-warming tale of a boy and his dog is littered with homages that will delight aficionados; Dracula, Godzilla and Nosferatu are all referenced. Martin Landau, superb in Burton’s earlier biopic, Ed Wood, is masterful as the Vincent-Price inspired, madcap Science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski.
Shot in black and white the effect is to invoke a sense of old-fashioned horror, of Universal monsters and Hammer. The animation is, as expected, faultlessly beautiful. Barely perceptible imperfections, the wave of a characters hair, or the judder of a corpulent gut all add to wonder of the piece and remind you that in an industry currently swamped with CGI output, stop-motion filmmaking has a tactile splendour not present in other forms of animation.
For all the nods to monster movies and early horror though, it’s not got the same sense of pathos as Shelley’s story or James Whale’s 1931 incarnation of the monster, from which it draws so much inspiration. The film’s ending feels out of kilter with its previous 85 minutes too, the message becoming muddled amidst the climactic finale like a misunderstood Charlotte’s Web. The 3D feels pretty incidental also, although you sense that the film will reach so many of its intended audience through repeated DVD showings in its 2D format anyway.
Still, it’s all amusing enough, and it’s a pleasure, perhaps even a relief to see Tim Burton deliver his most wickedly enjoyable film for a good few years.
Chris Banks (@Chris_in_2D)
UK Release Date: 10th Ocotber 2012 (European Premier ,London Film Festival) 17th October (General Release)
Directed By:Tim Burton
Cast:Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan,