Movie Review: Frankenweenie
With his best film in over a decade, Tim Burton may not be offering something new, but it certainly is refreshing and oh so satisfying with Frankenweenie, an idea decades in the making. In what is both a movie for new and old fans, Mr. Burton, who wrote this film as a short in 1984, finds ways to be clever, beyond just naming his young scientist Victor Frankenstein and his creepy hunchbacked peer Edgar E. Gore. He removes the ‘mad’ from the mad scientist stereotype, and lays it squarely on those without imagination, and those who fear change.
As he has so often done, Mr. Burton has created a visually stunning film (not hindered by 3-D, thankfully), with varying shades of black and white, creating a town called New Holland, reminiscent of the odd suburbia of Edward Scissorhands. A bevy of strange-looking characters, including one very wide-eyed girl and her ominous cat, help create a world so rich and fascinating that part of the fun of the film is simply visual.
The story is simple enough, told in the title, but Mr. Burton takes it to exactly to the right place. Victor’s best friend, and only friend, is his dog Sparky, who before he can bring him back to life, has to die tragically before us. We know what is coming, yet it still somehow is impactful, a credit to Mr. Burton’s patience.
Animated Sparky is lifelike, even after death, and his bond with Victor forms the heart of a movie that sees his curiosity challenge adults, all of whom denounce science. Those include the standard authoritarian figures such as the gym teacher (athletics over science), and the town mayor (politics over science), and occasionally Victor’s parents (safety over science).
Every child and just one adult – a substitute science teacher with a long face, the chilling voice of Martin Landau, and a love of electricity—favours experimentation as the school science fair approaches. It is a simple piece of show-and-tell that leads Victor to his attic to create his monster, err, dog, in one of the several chill-inducing scenes of the film.
This message about the necessity of science, though, is not so much hinted at as thrown directly and sharply at the audience (young and old), like a bolt of lightning coming down from the sky. Mr. Burton does by no means use a film to preach, simply throwing in a few powerful messages.
This works well to the younger amongst us, while an older crowd is rewarded with allusions to not only his past works, but those much earlier literary influences. The first half runs as expected, hinging on the spectacle that is a Tim Burton film, while the second ventures into the depths of his mind, a journey that is both frightening (more so to younger viewers) and amusing. He pays homage where he should, introducing a younger generation to his own inspirations, and offering some fun quick, clever references to Batman and Sleepy Hollow, two of his darker and more visionary works.
Sit back and take everything in from a film that is best watched on a screen as big as humanly possible, keeping an open mind and trying not to blink, so as not to miss that moment when the lightning strikes.