For the better part of the past decade it had appeared that Tim Burton had lost his mojo. As a fan of his earlier works it felt as if he was just “going through the motions” of directing in order to collect millions if dollars. Everything from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Alice in Wonderland have felt soulless and empty. It comes as no surprise that Burton’s last good movie was his 2003 Big Fish, being that it shares the same emotional power as Frankenweenie, his stop-motion animated feature inspired by his 1984 short of the same name. Burton deals with loss in both Big Fish and Frankenweenie, something that every viewer can relate to. It’s a bit sad that he had to mentally take himself back to ‘84 to reconnect with audiences, but what he delivers is an overtly emotional animated film that’s not only touching, but also eternal.
Frankenweenie, based on Burton’s short and penned by John August, takes us back to Burton’s childhood when the only things important to him were his dog, his parent’s acceptance, and movies. In what could be described as a dark and twisted poetic tale of life, Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan) loses his dog Sparky only to revive him in an homage to “Frankenstein.” When the town’s kids find out, they also attempt to bring back their pets, only to dire consequences.
Horror fans will juice over Frankenweenie as it takes the classic tale of “Frankenstein” and mixes in an epic homage to Godzilla, The Mummy, Dracula, Bride of Frankenstein, Creature From the Black Lagoon, The Wolf Man and more. It’s such a heartfelt and authentic take on Mary Shelley’s novella that it should make the creators of that fraud ParaNorman weep.
And unlike the horrendous Corpse Bride, the stop-motion was beautifully choppy (it drives me crazy when they smooth out stop-motion in post, which completely defeats the purpose). The animation itself is absolutely stunning, especially the sequence where Victor brings Sparky back from the dead. But much credit goes to the direction of Burton, who chooses to tell much of the story from the perspective of Sparky. You can tell that he really wants the audience to fall in love with Sparky before his ultimate demise (it wouldn’t be shocking at all if you teared up twice by the end credits.)
I don’t think Burton has ever connected with his audience like this. While Frankenweenie may not be the best movie ever made, it’s overflowing with passion, creativity and genuine heart. It comes from a place where filmmakers begin their careers, a place deep within the solar plexus that just bleeds with energy and ingenuity. I may have written Burton off too soon, because this could be the beginning of his career…