Frankenweenie is everything recent children films aren’t: thoughtful, stylish, nuanced, and capable of pleasing any demographic given the opportunity.
In what may be Tim Burton’s most emotionally investing and impactful endeavor since 2005’s Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie (expounding upon an original short film) is about Victor (a young boy voiced Charlie Tahan) who succeeds in reviving his loyal best friend after getting hit by a car – a dog named Sparky.
An outcast at school, Victor is considered a humble genius in the realm of science. Things seems to be on the up and up for the experiment-crazed child with both the Science fair just around the corner, and the hiring of a new passionate and inquisitive Science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau).
Burton does wonders with the film’s designed simplicity. Conceived in an eerie black and white stop-motion animation, Frankenweenie is essentially a story about a boy who doesn’t want to let go of the one thing he loves the most in his life.
Victor goes through all the stops to keep the reincarnation of Sparky a secret. When a few antagonistic classmates catch wind of the scientific breakthrough (just days till the highly anticipated science fair), the film escalates into absurdity and horror film fun.
While not as self-aware as ParaNorman, Burton is clearly playing off the conventional classic tropes of the genre. Amid references to The Mummy, one student is replicated almost entirely after the aesthetic of Frankenstein.
When it comes to the term auteur, Tim Burton, whether you enjoy his pictures or not, unquestionably is one. Every scene – exercised and completed with control and coherent direction – has the handprints of the man behind the helm.
Thankfully for us, Frankenweenie is a contrast to his recent overly stylistic drivel (Dark Shadows and Alice) and offers up a touching narrative about a boy who goes through great lengths, despite the consequences that may follow, to hold onto his one and only friendship.
Much like Victor and Spark, Burton is devoted to his story. So often in children’s animation intelligence is belittled instead of admired – Frankenweenie takes the time to flesh our whip smart protagonist.
Whether children will respond positively or negatively to the use of black and white is up for questioning. The ultimate end goal – despite its shortcomings – is to look past the color scheme and recognize what the film is aiming for.
Blending creative imagination with effective pathos, Frankenweenie is exactly the type of offbeat and subtle animation deserving of support and attention.