Rating: 3 out 5
Its hard to think of Tim Burton as a struggling director, just starting out in California. Yet once upon he was just that. And it was with Frankenweenie in the mid-1980s Burton tried to make his break with Disney.
The original (as anybody who has seen the Nightmare Before Christmas extras on DVD may attest to) is a live action affair about a boy who brings his dog Sparky back to life with disastrous consequences.
Disney originally pulled out of financially backing the film, deeming it ‘too scary’ for their audiences. Not long after his setback Burton remade Pee Wee Herman in his debut feature and the rest as they say is history.
Now ironically over 20 years later we are back to the beginning with Burton, Frankenweenie and Disney. Coming full circle Burton has reworked his original film and restyled it into a monochromatic gothic affair with a giant dollop of heart thrown in for good measure.
The 2012 version of Frankenweenie tells the story of 11 year old Victor Frankenstein, a science geek whose only friend is his faithful four legged companion Sparky. Tragically Sparky is run over and a devastated Victor brings life to his recently deceased friend after retrieving him from the cemetery. Victor’s secret is soon blown out of the water by his New Holland High School companions and chaos reigns on the small town when a giant tortoise descends onto it and creates mayhem alongside other reanimated pets at a local fair.
The film has been a labour of love for Burton and it clearly shows with not so subtle hints to Burton’s home state of California and Frankenstein. This alongside nods to various gothic references and similar drawings of characters which can be linked to past films, makes Frankenweenie feel like it should be a Burton classic before the film is even watched.
Unfortunately in practice Frankenweenie is a tad half baked. In theory the film show be up Burton’s street- it is dark, features familiar themes of outcasts and social differences. Beautifully crafted, the film looks outstanding.
Yet at its core the film suffers from poor writing and a lack of purpose. This makes it hard to truly invest in the characters as does the overly familiar look of them from other Burton films. It is as if Burton is trying to create a homage to himself with Frankenweenie. If Burton had focused less on looks and pulling ideas from other films- including his own then he may have been able to tell a better story. But he doesn’t. Putting style of substance seems to be Burton’s flaw at present- both Burton’s offerings this year, Dark Shadows and Frankenweenie, have suffered from this. A shame, because with the latter Burton had so much potential to do more with it than he did.
As it stands Frankenweenie is a visually stunning piece of stop motion cinematography which fails to elaborate much more on a past idea. While the film lacks emotional depth and can be accused of being overly simplistic, safe and a bit too Disney… the characters in their own way are sweet if not entirely memorable. The film is not overly bad, rather for a Burton film it feels decidedly average, awkward and lacking with under developed relationships and themes.
A shame. Frankenweenie had serious potential. Burton dug deep into his roots yet failed to come up with gold.