Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie marks a welcome return to form, blending heartfelt drama with a tribute to classic monster movies.
Burton’s recent quality of work can overall be described as average. For every slice of hyper colour banality (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Alice in Wonderland) there is a spirited romp of the macabre kind (Sweeney Todd, The Corpse Bride).
The one component missing in most of those films is heart. It seems that years of dealing with ghouls and freaks has rendered Burton’s filmmaking style to that of a cold corpse ready at a viewing: all made up for show, yet with no life under the surface. Who knew that all it took was man’s best friend to breathe new life into Burton’s imaginary vision?
Frankenweenie is not an original premise with Burton remaking his own 1984 short film of the same name into this black and white, Claymation animated feature where shy young inventor Vincent (Charlie Tahan) brings back to life his deceased dog and best friend Sparkie to unexpected consequences.
Design wise Frankenweenie delivers exactly what we expect from a Tim Burton movie, with especially the set design almost exact to that in Edward Scissorhands. Character designs are also typical, as are the themes or isolation, death and distrust of normalcy. Yet countering is a stripped back, organic approach from Burton with a budget of $39 million (Burton’s last two films had an average of $150 million), the removal of the usual hyper-kinetic colours and pushing emotion over eccentricity.
Most impressive of all is its concentrated spirit. More than just a tale of a friendship that can even overcome the finality of death, Frankenweenie also becomes a tribute to the classic monster movies that framed Burton’s artistic vision, and also features the frizzled haired filmmaker proclaiming his love for science as experimented by those of good moral and healthy query, as opposed to those mad scientists who frequent many of Burton’s favourite films.
To witness Burton’s talent, heart and spirit working in unison to create a fine movie is a special treat that should not be taken for granted. Hopefully Burton will ditch future adaptation of literary classics and stick to smaller, more intimate projects. Hopefully.