From the very first beautiful black and white frame of Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie I was completely absorbed into the stop-motion world Burton had brought to fruition and was glued to it in awe like a 12-year-old watching their first monster movie. It’s dark and morbid and references campy B-movies from the past, but it’s also one of the most visually mind-blowing experiences to sit through and is by far Burton’s best film to date.
Victor Frankenstein is a smart, imaginative boy who makes 8mm movies, knows a lot about science, and spends most of his time with his dog Sparky. When Sparky is run over and killed by a car, Victor is devastated and can’t live with himself. He gets the idea to bring Sparky back from the dead, and succeeds. His friends at school find out and soon everyone is bringing all sorts of animals back to life. One thing leads to another, and the entire town finds itself under attack by wild zombie pets.
Burton originally made Frankenweenie as a short film during his early days as a Disney animator and has wanted to make a feature version of it ever since. This is his baby and every detail of it, from the story to the character and set design, has all been meticulously crafted. There are many aspects of his previous films incorporated too, and if you’re a true Burton aficionado you’ll get a kick out of finding all the hidden references.
The black and white image might not appeal to everyone, but the contrast it has over colour really highlights the detail of the characters and the sets and is a real treat for the viewer. The 3-D works well too. This is unlike any other animated film we’ve seen and shows just what can be done with stop-motion.
Danny Elfman always seems to do his best work on Burton films and his score here is a true delight and acts almost as a tribute to classic monster movies in itself. It stands on its own and would be a great listen even without the movie, which is a true testament to how great it is.
Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short both voice multiple characters, including Victor’s parents, and really get to show off their comedic range. Winona Ryder is perfect as the girl next door, Elsa Van Helsing, and Martin Landau is hilarious as Victor’s science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski. The only voice I wasn’t that impressed with was Charlie Tahan as Victor. He does grow on you, but it felt very uninspired and weak.
It should be noted that I took my 5-year-old to see Frankenweenie with me and it was a bit too scary for him at times and he had a lot of questions about death afterwards. Unless you’re prepared to deal with that I’d say eight and up is probably fine. Adults will connect with the film more than young kids anyway, as that is who Burton was making this for.
Whether you’re a fan of the horror genre, a fan of animation, or a fan of Tim Burton, Frankenweenie is a film you’ll fall in love with and cherish for years to come. Get out to see it as soon as you can.
Rating: **** (out of 5 stars)