Over the years, our faith in Tim Burton has been tested. The visionary director, who primes himself on the gothic, has produced a few duds recently; most notable are his attempts at remakes. So what is his new film that will hopefully restore our faith in him? Another remake…..Although this time it’s a remake of a short film that he made in 1984 for Disney. Now, Burton has turned Frankenweenie, his tale of a young boy, who brings back his beloved dog from the dead, into a full length stop motion animated feature film.
In his early years, Burton was known for being unconventional, gothic and haing a unique and twisted sense of humour. This seems to have fallen between the cracks of his more recent work as he has opted for trying something new, which hasn’t always paid off the way audiences hoped (e.g. Planet of the Apes, Alice in Wonderland etc), so it is refreshing to see Burton get back to his roots in this film. The film features elements from and harks back to a lot of Burton’s older work. The suburban setting, that juxtaposes the films main premise, is reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands, the homage to the classic black-and-white monster movies of the 30’s is not dissimilar to what Burton did with 50’s Science-Fiction in Mars Attacks and the score from Danny Elfman transports you back in time to when Burton seemed to be at the top of his game. In fact, watching this film, at times I felt like I was watching a film directed by the young Tim Burton, not the one who had recently lost his way slightly and relied too much on CGI and Johnny Depp. However there are some elements Frankenweenie that Burton seems to have copied from his past films. The character of Elsa Van Helsing looks very similar to Lydia Deetz from Beetlejuice, which is further amplified by the fact both characters are played, almost identically, by Winona Ryder. There are other characters that seem to have leapt off the pages of Burton’s old sketch books.
Given the extended running time, Burton has also been able to expand the films scope, giving us a wider range of supporting characters. One of the best inclusions is a bride of Frankenstein style poodle Persephone, who acts as love interest for the dog Sparky. In comparison to the massively underdeveloped “romance” between Elsa and Victor Frankenstein, the chemistry between the two dogs is perfectly portrayed on-screen. Top marks go to the animators for impressively creating a believable and engaging romantic storyline, which is essentially between two model dogs. The chemistry between two is one of the most convincing love-stories portrayed on-screen, and that’s impressive for two characters that don’t say a word. There are some other standouts from human characters, or at least as close to human as Edgar “E” Gore gets, with a sublime voice performance from Atticus Shaffer. Without the inclusion of Johnny Depp (We may love him, but it was starting to get tiring with him being in EVERY Burton film), previous collaborators of Tim Burton are given another opportunity to shine again, with Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara voicing numerous characters and Martin Landau voicing the eccentric and creepy science teacher Mr. Rzykrusk.
There is also the protagonist Victor Frankenstein, which I imagine isn’t dissimilar to Tim Burton has a child. A social outcast, who spends his time cooped up indoors making movies……in fact, is that any different to the Tim Burton we know now? The animation does a lot of the acting for us and is complimented by a wonderful voice performance as Charlie Tahan, who delivers an affectionate and likeable performance, engaging the audience almost instantly. With a longer running time, Burton really embraces the opportunity to flesh out the character and focus on the friendship between Victor and his dog Sparky. The friendship is beautifully portrayed, you feel the pain Victor goes through when his best friend is taken from him and you become determined with Victor as he sets his plan in motion to bring his dog back to life.
I saw the film in IMAX 3D and this is one of the rare occasions where exploiting the use of 3D would have benefited the film, as it would have added to the exploitive nature that came with the old monster films from yesteryear. As mentioned, the animation in this film is superb, particularly in each figurine and puppet. Even when there are dialogue free scenes, the emotions and thoughts of these characters really comes across effectively. The animators make the puppets look like better actors than some of the live ones we have today. This is a funny, gothic, and at times moving cinematic experience that has finally restored my faith in Tim Burton.
Frankenweenie is released nationwide across the UK on Wednesday 17th October.