In 1984, Tim Burton made a short, live-action version of Frankenweenie to be shown ahead of Disney’s Pinocchio. But when Frankenweenie was given a PG rating, Disney considered it unsuitable being too frightening for young children. Frankenweenie was shelved and Burton was fired from Disney for wasting company resources.
Now Tim Burton returns to his treasured early film, remaking it in the stop-motion form that was originally deemed too expensive back in 1984.
At the crux of the story is Victor’s love for his dog Sparky. When Sparky dies in a tragic accident, Victor draws inspiration from Mr. Rzykruski’s science classes and tries to bring Sparky back to life with lightening.
Victor’s friends learn of his success, repeating his experiment in an effort to win the school science fair with calamitous results.
It’s a brave move to produce a children’s film in black and white. But, while vibrant colours have been used to capture imagination and energy in recent animations such as Rio and Madagascar 3, Frankenweenie’s old fashioned monochrome creates a more mysterious and creepy vibe that’s just as likely to capture children’s interest.
For children, Frankenweenie is an age old tale about a boy who loses his pet. From the competitive Toshiaki to the serious Nassor and the gullible Bob, none of the characters in Frankenweenie are ‘cool’ making it appealing and fresh. Frankenweenie is a positive movie that sees children be themselves while taking a keen interest in school.
Mr. Rzykruski, a science teacher, is the children’s unlikely role model. He’s drastically misunderstood by the skeptical parents, but he instils in Victor the need for intelligence and analytical thought.
Despite it’s focus on horror, Frankenweenie is a warm movie - light on obvious, cliched sentiment but with family and love at it’s core.
While Victor’s parents worry that he finds it hard to make friends, they are also reasonable and understanding.
Frankenweenie nicely avoids becoming mushy though, and has enough yucky moments that children will love - the re-animated Sparky is chased by flies and sea monkeys explode into globules of slime.
For adults, Frankenweenie is also a wonderful homage to classic horror movies. Victor’s parents watch Horror Of Dracula while Victor’s friend, Edgar ‘E’ Gore, resembles the classic sidekick from Frankenstein and other Golden Age horror flicks. The Mummy, Godzilla and Gremlins also have a place in Frankenweenie along with countless other horror references.
Frankenweenie is rich with detail and Burton’s quirky gothic humour, from the cinema that advertises Bambi to the Goodbye Kitty gravestone in New Holland’s pet cemetery.
Frankenweenie is both stylish and atmospheric with a terrific score from Danny Elfman. The stop-motion is impeccable with charmingly weird-looking characters cleverly framed to make them appear creepy and frightening. ‘Weird Girl’, who reads omens in her cat’s litter tray, has wide open eyes with tiny pupils, while science teacher Mr. Rzykruski has such a long face that close-ups leave his toothy mouth at the very bottom of the screen.
Tim Burton excels with Frankenweenie. Just as his character’s experiments only succeed if made with love, Burton’s passion and care in Frankenweenie pay off, making it the best we’ve seen from him in recent times and the finest animation of the year.
As Victor makes his own horror movies in an attic filled with home-made contraptions and storyboards, we’re prompted to think about a young Tim Burton making stop-motion movies in his parents back yard.
Despite being conceived almost thirty years ago, Frankenweenie feels imaginative, original and fresh. Although the ending could make more waves, Frankenweenie is a brave picture with oodles of charm. The perfect Halloween viewing.
Running Time: 87 minutes.