Frankenweenie movie review
It's been quite some time since a Tim Burton film has resonated with me. Not since Big Fish have I found anything of his particularly outstanding. At best, I find myself at odds with popular consensus. I thought Sweeney Todd and Corpse Bride were insufferably annoying (I rarely enjoy musicals), but felt that Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were endearingly weird. With Frankenweenie, I can't help feeling that I'm once again on the unpopular side of opinion.
Using an undeniably stunning mix of black and white cinematography and stop-motion animation, Frankenweenie tells the story of a boy and his dog. Victor Frankenstein is the lonely creative type. He loves his dog Sparky, who can't stop getting himself into trouble. One day Sparky's energy gets the best of him, as an errant baseball sends him into traffic and a subsequent early grave.
But of course we know that isn't the end for Sparky, as Victor takes his new science teacher's lessons to heart and decides to perform some experiments of his own. One lightning strike later and Sparky is back. Keeping his revival a secret isn't easy, though, and once the other kids in the town learn about Victor's secret, they all want their own reanimated pet.
Frankenweenie is a fun movie to look at, but if you search for any substance you'll come up short. The relationship between Victor and Sparky is heartfelt, but Burton spends too much time dwelling on wacky hijinks for the bond to really build up steam. There are some themes like the power of science and the realities of death, but they are briefly touched upon. The darkly weird subject matter seems like a ripe opportunity to explore some potent themes, but Frankenweenie plays it safe, much to the detriment of its entertainment value.
If charming slapstick, a visual feast, and a pile of horror film references are enough for you, you'll probably get a kick out of Frankenweenie. For myself, its charms were only so effective, and I was often simply bored with it. There was a time when the sophistication of a Saturday morning cartoon was enough for a family film, but I think Pixar changed that a long time ago.
Like with Hotel Transylvania last week, I once again find myself saddened that the better film, Paranorman, may end up being forgotten in the Halloween animation pile. That film had all the visual splendor, slapstick humor, and cool horror film references of Frankenweenie, but also dared to say something of value to both kids and adults.
Once again Burton has thrown me for a loop. Frankenweenie bears his quirky, dark stamp in eye candy only. In every other sense, Frankenweenie keeps things simple and sweet, and subsequently a bit too dull.