“Frankenweenie” Review: Welcome Back, Mr. Tim Burton

Tim Burton doesn’t adhere to the rules or regulations that a dark film has to be entirely dark. He gives that glimmer of light that uplifts the audience’s sense of hope and has us rooting for characters. Until recently, the director shifted gears towards putting his twist a couple of properties, which was met with polarizing results. But now the Burton has returned to what he does best, creating wonderfully dark stories with glimmers of hope. Hit the jump for a full review of Frankenweenie.

For the most part, Frankenweenie is an extended version of the 1980s short that bares the same name. While the two share the title, the film itself is expands upon that short with the screenplay written by Big Fish scribe John August. So instead of seeing just a short about a boy named Victor trying to revive his dog Sparky by using the power of science, August expanded on that story by giving Victor and Sparky more characters and animals to interact with. Fleshing out a screenplay based on a 30 minute short is no easy task, and August’s screenplay clearly shows that there was some trouble figuring out how to make a short into a full length movie.

The first act of Frankenweenie is actually a nice build up towards something clunky and weak. Those first few minutes clearly establish that Victor is no ordinary boy. He doesn’t have many friends, he doesn’t excel in sports, and he attracts the creepy girls. But the precious thing that he holds dear – aside from the love he has for his parents (voiced by Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short) – is the bond he has with his dog Sparky. Sparky is the only one who understands and appreciates Victor. But like his name, Sparky is an active dog who gets into all sorts of trouble, the kind of trouble that eventually leads up to his death.

After a period of mourning, Victor finds inspiration through a very controversial teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landu), who says that electricity can move the muscles. The boy uses this new found lesson to reanimated his dog. But his fellow classmates learn of Victor’s success to harness electricity to bring life to the dead, and they use it for their own selfish reasons, which has catastrophic results.

That first act was a joy to watch on screen. The relationship between Victor and Sparky is the kind that anyone who owns a pet can relate to. However, when the other classmates get in on trying to bring their pets to life, the film somewhat heads downhill. After Victor succeeds in bringing Spark back to life, the film goes through the motions of trying to fill in time. The only highlight in the second act is when Mr. Rzykruski is forced out of town after the people find out that he was the one who put dangerous thoughts into the students’ head. It’s almost Tim Burton’s way of addressing the way inspirational teachers are tied down to the educational rules and restrictions.

But Frankenweenie finds new life after flatlining in the second act and storms through the third act like it had nothing to lose. Normally, stop-motion animated films try to avoid sequences involving crowds, but in Frankenweenie, Burton wanted to be bold and daring, and we start to see him push the envelope when we see large crowds running for their lives.

To see another film presented in black and white is a rare treat, and it may even get the younger audiences to appreciate the medium. While the story may seem small, the world of New Holland is vast, and is a homage to the Burbank that Burton fondly remembers. The 3D enhances that depth of the city and it surprisingly holds up well during the entire movie.

Give credit to Burton for working with a August’s script. Sure it may have had flaws, but August did the best he could with the material he was giving. The spirit of the movie may be Burton’s, but August’s attempts to expand on Victor and Sparky’s story, and put them in a real world, comes off as unnecessary filler. But some how it all worked out, and that is the most important thing for any movie.

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