Starring: Martin Short, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara
You may like this if you liked: ParaNorman (Chris Butler and Sam Fell, 2012), The Nightmare before Christmas (Henry Selick, 1993), Corpse Bride (Tim Burton and Mike Johnson, 2005)
Young Victor Frankenstien (really?) is an outsider who is fascinated by science, his only real friend being his beloved dog Sparky. However, a tragic turn of events lead to Sparky being run over and unfortunately killed. After being shown in a science lesson that electricity has the potential to restore life, Victor has an idea to bring back his beloved Sparky. During a heavy storm, Victor uses the electricity from the lightning to attempt to bring Spaky back to life. The experiment is a success, however Victor is forced to hide Sparky from others as some will refuse to accept that he is still the same dog at heart, while with an upcoming science contest; others may want to replicate Victor’s idea.
The term ‘A Tim Burton Film’ has almost become a cliché in itself these days in that it basically refers to a film being weird almost for the sake of being weird, especially Tim’s remakes, or ‘re-imaginings’ as they are often called. Being the cynical bugger, I regarded Frankenweenie with a little scepticism, especially as I am an animal lover and do not want to see one die in any film, let alone a kid’s film! However, I found Frankweenie a pleasant surprise. I remember hearing in an interview that Burton, as a fan of horror films as kid, wanted to make the kind of film he would have loved at that age. This is what lies at the very heart of what makes Frankenweenie such a success; it is obviously a very personal film and made with total compassion and affection. After all the big budget remakes, Frankenweenie is a much welcome reminder of why Tim Burton is popular and regarded as a unique director.
However, when a film is personal to the director it can of course become over indulgent and alienate a lot of the audience and sometimes lose sight of even any clear narrative. An element of restraint is necessary, and I am pleased to say that I felt Frankenweenie demonstrated a perfect balance of this. This is a film that adults and children can all enjoy and relate to. Despite being all in black and white, this is a film children will enjoy; there is enough heart and a sense of adventure, as well being told from the perspective of a child. Victor’s position as a slight outsider to the norm is one that is easy to relate to, and many of us do. There are also countless nods and winks to various horror films that adults will enjoy, these all always tremendous fun as well as respectful to their original source. Of course, it goes without saying that people of any age who are animal lovers (like myself) and have experienced the companionship an animal can give you will find a genuine emotional connection to this film.
There is also style to the substance, with some important underlying moral messages within the narrative that keeps Frankenweenie being a film with a good narrative structure and character arcs. The inevitable ‘dramatic’ scenes towards the end, though they feel inevitable, they still are good fun and never feel they have to be there as they fit in perfectly with the tone of the film, mirroring perfectly scenes from past horror films in consistently fun way. My one issue was an aspect of the ending. I don’t want to give anything away, but there is a certain aspect of the ending that was a little inconsistent with a moral message that had up until then been a major theme of the narrative. Of course, this is essentially a kid’s film so I am sure that may have had something to do with it, which I understand. I know that Frankenweenie was not a major box office success, and I understand why, I was a little guilty of having reservations against it myself. However, now it is available to buy, it is a film I would strongly recommend to kids and adults alike.
Made with passion and heart, Frankenweenie is Tim Burton’s most personal for a long time. It is all the better for it as Frankweenie is very accessible, involving and great fun for viewers of all ages.