Film Review: Frankenweenie (2012)

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Tim Burton, as unique an artist as he is, often falls unfortunately into a common director’s trap. While he’s not necessarily a strict love-him-or-hate-him type of filmmaker, his work is constantly (and somewhat arbitrarily) being held up against itself in order to gauge its value; that said, expectations of his films are normally higher, hinting more and more at the idea that Burton has lost his touch. “<insert newer Burton title> was no Edward Scissorhands!” “He needs to chill out on Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.” “Sweeney Todd sucked balls.” Even I, despite all my attempts to be fair, was turned off by his Willy-Wonka-via-Andy-Warhol-on-acid, and wrote off Alice in Wonderland after a disappointed look at the trailer. The thing I love about Tim Burton, though, is that he’s not out to please the disgruntled fanboys and armchair directors of the world. He’s just emptying the pretty things in his mind onto celluloid, and bless his stop-motion-animated heart for it.

On the heels of the (unfairly) panned Dark Shadows (which suffered from a box office ruled by an audience either completely oblivious to – or way too protective of – the source material) comes Frankenweenie, a feature-length, stop-motion revival of Burton’s decades-old live-action short starring Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern. Frankenweenie, in both its original and re-vamped forms, begins as the classic tale of a boy and his dog. Victor Frankenstein, devastated when his dog (the aptly-named Sparky) is hit by a car, uses his love of a good science project to bring his best friend back from the dead.

Frankenweenie is absolutely stunning; it’s a gorgeous greyscale stroke of genius. The story is relatively simple, the animation flawless and evocative, and presentation in 3D manages to deepen and enhance the loveliness of Burton’s signature style while immersing the audience in a narrative that will hit home for anyone who has a heart. I can only imagine what an IMAX viewing would do for this sort of feature. I literally can’t think of anything bad to say about this movie; it knew what it was doing and made no mistakes.

This is a great family movie, staying lightweight and ridiculously cute in the face of a dead dog and a fair amount of subtext. For me, though (and as I imagine it will be for you, my fellow freaks and geeks), the highlight of Frankenweenie was the expertly-handled homage to James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931) and its sequel, Bride of Frankenstein (1935). References to the Universal classics permeate the film from start to finish; some subtle (Victor’s friend is named “Elsa) and some more overt (an angry mob of torch-wielding peasants chases Sparky to the town’s windmill, thinking he killed a little girl). All of these allusions are lovingly placed with a wink and a nod to the originals, adding yet another beautiful layer to an already beautiful piece.

Burton has always had an uncanny knack for, well, the uncanny, and Frankenweenie is Burton at his best. Past detractors of his work will call this a “return to form”; for me, Frankenweenie proves that Burton never really left. This is a perfect movie for the Halloween season and a beautiful addition to Burton’s repertoire, worth the extra IMAX-dollars and with a little something for everyone.

Rating: 5/5 ★★★★★ 

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About Kara_E

Kara is a Senior Office Assistant for the Center for Genomics and Bioinformatics at Indiana University. A past English major and lifetime writer, she has also served both as an actress and behind-the-scenes assistant for several projects with our friends at Clockwerk Pictures. Kara lives with her husband in Bloomington, Indiana. In her spare time, she is a freelance editor/proofreader for international students at Indiana University, and serves as an organizer of the Dark Carnival Film Festival (www.darkcarnivalfilmfest.com).

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