“Frankenweenie” is probably the most Tim Burton-y of Tim Burton’s movies of late. Not since “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” has Tim Burton released a movie so filled with his heart and soul. His more recent works have been more experimental and usually a hard hit or miss.
“Frankenweenie,” however, is a breath of fresh air. This movie is a return to some of director Tim Burton’s favorite themes: namely, the imaginative and inventive youngster in conflict with a close-minded and conservative community.
The creative and eccentric young protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, is restricted by the depressingly strait-laced and bourgeois town of New Holland. Appropriately enough, it eventually turns out to be Mr. Frankenstein’s insistence upon his son’s adoption of “normal” activities that turns Victor’s life upside down. During a baseball game gone awry, Victor’s beloved dog, Sparky, is hit by a car and killed.
Needless to say, Victor is devastated. Inspired by his class’ equally eccentric science teacher, he decides to bring Sparky back from the dead. The operation is a success, and Victor must take special care to hide his reanimated pet from his classmates and neighbors.
The voice actors are a treat. The young actor Charlie Tahan (“Charlie St. Cloud”) who portrays Victor delivers a restrained yet off-beat performance. Martin Short (“Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted”) and Catherine O’Hara (“Killers”), who are usually seen in over-the-top character actor roles, manages a sublime subtlety in their roles as Victor’s parents. The golden mean is Martin Landau (“Mysteria”), who portrays the science teacher with an enthusiastic and heartfelt austerity. The only issue with the film was Winona Ryder’s (“The Dilemma”) less than substantial role as Victor’s friendly neighbor Elsa.
The art design, reminiscent of “Corpse Bride,” is effective in conveying a sense of both eccentricity and wonder. Danny Elfman’s score is both playful and heartfelt.
If just one aspect of the movie could be changed, it should be the relatively short-running time of just under 90 minutes; many of the supporting characters, such as Victor’s classmates in particular, could have been fleshed out further given perhaps another 20 minutes.
Although kids these days may be jaded to the rather tame attempts at horror in PG movies, but the movie’s third act is an homage to old monster movies. Combined with the 3D glasses, it’s guaranteed to strike terror into even the most apathetic of children.