Has Tim Burton turned away from remakes and come up with an original idea? Not quite. However he has managed to create a beautiful love letter to classic horror movies and for that he must be commended.
Back in 1984 Tim Burton made a live action short of Frankenweenie starring Shelley Duvall, Sofia Coppola and Barret Oliver (The Never Ending Story) which concerned the story of a young boy who brings his dead dog back to life. 28 years later he’s returned to it, only this time it’s in the form of stop-motion animation. Thankfully he has kept it black and white making it the first grayscale film to be released in IMAX 3D. The first thing that strikes you while watching is the sheer beauty of the piece. The elegant subtle shades stand out so crisp and clean, making you sit back in awe of the film’s design.
Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) is an only child with few friends apart from his loyal dog Sparky. His Dad wants him to try sports and put down the books so he makes him play baseball, however Sparky chases after the ball and gets knocked down leaving Victor heartbroken. The new science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau), informs the school children how even after death the wiring is still present in the human body, it merely needs a charge. Spurred on by his desire to get his only friend back Victor sets about reanimating Sparky. Overjoyed at first Victor soon realises he doesn’t fully understand the ramifications of his experiment.
The film is PG and may be too dark for smaller children and some of the creatures are a tad gruesome. For a 27 year old child such as myself the film isn’t really scary although there are a few jumps and delightfully gross moments. This isn’t a bad thing as there is plenty to excite. The characters are fantastic, they comprise of Edgar, a mixture of Quasimodo and Egor, Nassor a representation of the classic Franenstein monster and the science teacher Mr. Rzykruski is a blend of the greats: Christopher Lee, Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff. A personnel favourite was Weird Girl, almost floating around the movie extolling premonitions with her cat Mr. Whiskers, they’re a hilarious duo and merely appearing on screen causes a chuckle. Catherine O’Hara does a fantastic job of getting the voice spot on wringing every last comedy drop out of the character. It’s great to hear Martin Short (Innerspace, Arrested Development) showing his range as well, not only does he voice Victor’s father but that of Nassor one of the funnier characters.
The film is a classic horror fan’s dream and it isn’t that surprising that Burton is behind the camera, with 1994’s Ed Wood we saw his love for the genre. You’d need a pen and paper to jot down all the references contained within Frankenweenie. They way in which he highlights his favourites are brilliantly executed and very clever – the whole naming of the town seems a bit odd until the last ten minutes of the film when it becomes clear why such a name was needed. Like all good horror films you need to care about somebody and be emotionally invested in them and never was this more true of Sparky. Yes that’s right I cared what happened to a stop-motion animated puppet dog.
I will go back and watch Burton’s original short but it’s hard to imagine it coming anywhere near the magnificence of its animated reincarnation. The Nightmare before Christmas was 19 years ago (yes you’re that old), and it’s great to see how much the medium has moved on. A lot of the splendour of this film will be lost on younger viewers but it’s something they can return to in years to come and appreciate even more. The child inside you should love it also.
USA / Directed By: Tim Burton / Written By: John August / Starring: Charlie Tahan, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder / 87min / Horror, Comedy, Animation / Release: 17 October 2012 (UK/Ireland)