‘Frankenweenie’ brings some energy to Tim Burton’s familiar style
Wed, Oct 3, 2012 (6:04 p.m.)
The biggest problem with Tim Burton’s work in the last decade has been its lack of originality, the way that Burton just puts his increasingly uninspired stamp on existing works (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland, etc.). Burton’s aesthetic has become tired and inert, in desperate need of some new material to shake it up. Frankenweenie isn’t quite that magic solution, although it is Burton’s liveliest film in several years.
Rather than reinterpreting outside source material, in Frankenweenie Burton is remaking himself—his own short film of the same name, released in 1984. Both movies are in black and white, consciously evoking classic horror, although the new version is created with stop-motion animation, while the original was live action. Frankenweenie is Burton’s first animated film on which he’s the sole credited director, and it’s clearly a personal project, lovingly re-creating many of the shots and design elements of his original short.
Plot-wise, the new Frankenweenie also follows the original pretty closely, at least at first. It focuses on misfit preteen Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan), who loses his beloved dog Sparky to a car accident and is inspired to bring him back to life using the power of electricity. Since the original short ran just half an hour, Burton and screenwriter John August have expanded the story, and while some of the additions are amusing, others are just narrative dead ends. The movie goes off the rails with a third act that finds Victor’s classmates creating their own monsters and inadvertently unleashing them on the town, a confused device that peters out when the movie veers back toward the original template for its ending.
Even when the story is unfocused and frustrating, the movie’s visual style remains impressive, with a cleaner look than some of Burton’s more garish productions, which still captures the creepiness of the subject matter. The supporting voice work from Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara and Martin Landau strikes the right balance between goofy and sinister, and the homage to monster movies of the past is warm and funny. Frankenweenie might not be quite the jolt that Burton’s work needs, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.