87 min., 2012
Written by John August
Directed by Tim Burton
My rating: ★★★★
Tim Burton’s career…it’s alive…IT’S ALIVE!!!
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Despite my most recent review gushing over Tim Burton as if I’m his world’s biggest fanboy, the reality is that while I greatly admire nearly half of his movies, the other half ranges from ambivalence (Sleepy Hollow, Corpse Bride) to sheer hatred (Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows). And with two of his last movies (see “sheer hatred”) being absolute schlock, I was jaded going into his latest movie Frankenweenie, a remake of his short film from 1984. But, being the critic/fan that I am, I gave it a fair viewing and honestly, I’m so glad I did.
The plot is simple enough: It’s Frankenstein, except about a boy and his dog. Aside from the obvious story of bringing back something from the dead, the inclusion of a child dealing with the loss of his pet is enough to give even the most hardened viewers major feels, especially if they have had to deal with a similar loss. The connection between Victor (Charlie Tahan) and his dog Sparky is genuine and tangible, and when one of them feels sad, lost, alienated, or inversely, happy and contented, it’s hard not to feel the same way. If you’ve ever had a pet, lost a pet, or don’t completely hate animals, you’re gonna be on the verge of tears during quite a few scenes.
To paraphrase Brad Jones, this might be the Burtoniest Tim Burton movie I’ve ever seen. After I said Burton was shilling out soulless dreck with no shred of inspiration, here he comes and Burtons the FUCK out of a movie, more than Nightmare Before Christmas, more than Edward Scissorhands, hell, more than Batman Returns! Why? Because it’s 100% personal to him. I have to give Disney credit, they gave Burton free reign to retell his own story his own way, from the black and white presentation to the creepy visuals and monsters (we’ll discuss those soon), the signature Danny Elfman score, and the oddball character gallery, not to mention the film’s themes of being a misunderstood outcast. It’s 100% HIS, and it was beyond refreshing to see.
Though to be fair, that also leads to the film’s detriment. Victor’s dad (Martin Short) plays the typical loving yet idiotic dad who wants his son to be “normal” by introducing him to sports, whereas Victor’s…love interest (maybe – it never really goes anywhere), the awesomely-named Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder) is forced to sing the worst town fair performance ever through the demand of her uncle, the also-awesomely named Mayor Burgemeister (Martin Short).
Burton doesn’t have a copyright on adults telling kids what to do, of course, but the trope of being forced, either directly or through peer pressure, to conform to normalcy, particularly suburban normalcy, is something we’ve seen blatantly in Edward Scissorhands (which is exactly why I dislike that movie so much). However, I greatly enjoyed the fact that it teaches kids (sort of) to think critically, and this is especially seen in the school chemistry teacher Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau), Victor’s inspiration and a brilliant mind who is shunned by the suburbanites because they’re typical ‘Murican idiots who think science is witchcraft.
The best parts of this movie, however, are the tributes to classic monster movies. Once Victor brings Sparky back to life through an electrical storm, all the other kids do the same to their deceased pets so they can win the school science fair (Because wasn’t that something you did in elementary school?). This results in the most epic assortment of undead monsters ever, such as a giant Godzilla-esque turtle, sea monkeys not unlike Gremlins (who explode when eating salt because they’re freshwater creatures…again, yay science!), and a cat morphed with a bat, which is as frightening as you can imagine.
I’d highly recommend this for those who haven’t given it a watch yet. It’s not the best Burton film or even the best animated movie of 2012 (*cough* ParaNorman *cough*) but it’s still a great film that both tells a heartwarming story about a boy and his dog and also tributes classic monster movies in such an entertaining fashion. I, for one, am glad to witness a new film by a director who has finally come back to delivering stories the way he was meant to tell them.Have You Read...?