Review of Frankenweenie


It’s a little surprising to me that Tim Burton has never made a boy and his dog story (with a twist) before, so surprising that I had to look it up only to find that he has made“Frankenweenie” before, as a live-action short in 1984. 28 years later and you can tell this story, animated now, is still a passion project.

His main character is Victor (Charlie Tahan), a lanky, dark-haired High School loner who prefers making 8mm movies and working on science experiments with his best canine buddy, Sparky, than making human friends. We know that Sparky is not long for this world, leaving Victor heartbroken until his science teacher (Martin Landau) explains that electricity can stimulate muscles, even dead ones. And there you have it. Soon Sparky is stitched up and shocked back to life, and while he’ll never win best in show, he makes Victor’s classmates mighty nervous about the upcoming science fair competition.

Stop-motion animation has become the destination for dark fairy-tales, started by Burton with the masterpiece “Nightmare Before Christmas”. It’s a trend that has continued with the Laika animation studio. Here Burton uses the medium well, creating characters with distinctive shape and personality. I particularly liked Victor’s eccentric classmates, wide-eyed and demented-looking take-offs on Igor and Boris Karloff, and science teacher, the only source of the films real big laughs (yes, Burton still has trouble with comedy here as well). Using black and white is a nice touch too, creating that feel of watching one of those old monster movies.

This is all employed as a lovable story of boy-dog friendship and Burton does a nice job with that, never getting too sappy or depressing. You do want this movie to be funnier, to be more involved and exciting during its bland middle section, but he comes through in the end with an action-packed monster mash-up. It’s not as great as “Christmas”, but it has touches that are distinctly Burton.