“When you lose someone you love they never really leave you”
Tim Burton has been synonymous with weird ever since his directorial debut of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Since then he’s gone on to make a lot of films which are, in their own right, homages to the monster movie greats. Even one of his most famous films, Edward Scissorhands, is about a man who was created and turns out to be a view of a monster who is accepted and then persecuted by society once having been exposed to it. In recent years (Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Planet of the Apes) he’s stepped away from those sources of inspiration though. With Frankenweenie Burton returns to that well and reminds himself of what (I believe) truly made him fall in love with movies in the first place.
Victor (Charlie Tahan) is a loner. His only friend is Sparky, his dog. Together they make films and are the best of friends. After an incident though Sparky passes and Victor, unable to deal with the grief of losing his best friend, with some inspiration from Mr. Rzykruski(Martin Landau) decides to conduct an experiment to bring Sparky back to life, and it works.
The film is based on Burton’s 1984 short film, of the same name, and follows the exact same story with much needed expansion – that detracts from the grander meaning but still entertains. The film is an exercise in a child’s coming to terms with the finality of death. With the story of Victor and Sparky moving the film forward for the first couple of acts the film takes a pause to that relationship to have a monster movie marathon session as all of the classmates – worried having discovered Victor’s creation that they’ll lose to him in the science fair – make their own creations which make for a lot of creature references that any fan of 1920s – 30s horror films will adore.
Burton’s decision to present the film in black and white was a great choice. Somehow it was able to give the film even more texture. In a genre, stop-motion, where texture is everything somehow the visuals came off even more loving to their inspirations here.
The character designs are also something that so many will enjoy. With the accentuated features that you expect from most animated features that are so well defined here. In animation, for the most part, these features are expressions of perspective. This story is being told from the perspective of Victor and it’s obvious that he sees these people are caricatures of themselves. As we see Edgar ‘E’ Gore (Atticus Shaffer) as and Igor like design it’s not to say that he looks like that, but rather that’s how Victor (and Burton by proxy) sees him. Which is also the world of filmmaking and allows for a brilliant parallel between Burton and Victor as we see in the opening scene that Burton has made his lead character into a filmmaking hobbyist, if not an aspiring professional.
Frankenweenie, for the most part, almost feels like it wasn’t made with children in mind. While the movie uses its characters to relate to assumed demographic the way it handles the underlying thoughts and presentation of those thoughts are not so easily accessible. Even when we get to the end of the film it is uncertain as to whether Burton caved to his own childlike desire rather than a more mature sense of acceptance.