Simple, childlike drama about an intelligent young boy that tames the benefits of electrical power to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life. As the title suggests, the story is a kiddie version of the vintage Frankenstein tale. Frankenweenie was originally a live action short starring Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern released back in 1984. In its current incarnation, the 30 minute anecdote has been expanded to an 87 minute animated fantasy.
First the good. It’s one of Tim Burton’s most sweetly accessible family friendly films since Corpse Bride. It certainly looks fantastic. I don’t think anyone questions the director’s fetching macabre style. There’s a welcome purity in the visuals that actually benefit the modest tale. The movie is photographed in black in white as a tribute to the horror classics of the 1930s. The cast is fittingly quirky with four of his previous collaborators that include Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, and Winona Ryder. Their new substitute science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, a particular standout. He is a ghastly joy, delightfully voiced by Martin Landau but with features that almost recall Vincent Price. There’s a magnificently uncontrolled climax that utilizes the idea of a science fair gone amok.
Now the bad. The whole affair has Tim Burton just coasting on the fumes of his earlier successes. The plot is slight in the extreme. Very little of it is innovative or original. The frequent allusions to other people’s works including Bride of Frankenstein or Godzilla feels more like lazy borrowing than the homage I think they’re meant to be. The few attempts at humor are weak and aimed strictly at young children.
Frankenweenie has the mark of quality. It’s a beautifully mounted stop-motion animation that will entertain an undemanding audience. The chronicle of a boy’s love for his dog by way of Frankenstein isn’t particularly fresh. I’ll admit, however, the visual feast is a retro production designer’s dream. The narrative is marked by a tranquil restraint that has been lacking in the director’s recent big budget creations as of late. Yes, this science-fiction comedy horror is pleasant enough, but it’s no classic.