When his beloved dog dies, Victor (Charlie Tahan) turns to science to bring his best friend back. However, Victor soon learns that his actions have some unexpected consequences.
It is fair to say that Tim Burton has not been making the best film choices lately, so when it was first announced that Tim Burton was making his beloved black and white short, Frankenweenie, into a full-length film, many fans of the director rejoiced. The fact that Burton chose to tell the story through motion stop animation, in black and white, furthered the idea that he had returned to his beloved and well received roots. The question is, however, did it work?
Frankenweenie looks at the ideas of loneliness and love; Victor is an only child with no real friends in his life, unless you count his dog, Sparky. It makes sense then that when Sparky meets an untimely end, Victor is devastated and resorts to desperate measures. It is easy to remember that first sense of loss when a pet died; for many of us, it was the first time that we dealt with the fact that things we love get lost or go away, and the innocence of the storyline is one that will touch many audience members’ hearts.
Charlie Tahan has had some film roles in the past, but this is arguably his first time carrying a full film. The young actor obviously has fun with the role, but because this was a voice role, it may have been difficult for him to connect with the other actors, especially since most of them were much older than he. Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short take on a variety of voice roles and do fine and Winona Ryder doesn’t have a whole lot to do as Elsa, but it is Martin Landau as Mr. Rzykruski – the teacher who inspires Victor – who brings a touch of wonderful creepiness to the film.
The design of the characters is obviously influenced by Tim Burtons drawings and stories, including The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy – but there are one or two characters who don’t quite fit into the world, and this jars the audience. As well as this, the use of obvious monster-affiliated names is equally as forced; Victor’s surname is Frankenstein and Elsa’s is Van Helsing. These may fit the parts that they play in the story, but it feels rather obvious and as though with these names, and the monster references, the audience are being beaten around the head with how ‘clever’ the movie is. As well as this, it is obvious that this story began as a short; the story seems to drag it’s heels at times and feels thin at others.
That said, there is charm in there, the evolution of the reanimated monsters is a bit of fun and Victor’s relationship with his best friend Sparky is sweet and feels real. There are some touches of class throughout the film, but not enough to balance out the rest. The absence of Helena Bonham Carter and Johnny Depp – even though I love them both – is refreshing and even though it is disappointing in parts, Frankenweenie could well be Burton’s best film since Corpse Bride and certainly his best since Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.
In all, Frankenweenie seems to fall foul of it’s own grand designs; the story feels rather stretched out at times and the ending seriously weakens the moral. There are some warm and genuine moments in there, but Frankenweenie does not feel as though it is anything new and, ultimately, it is missing the spark it needs in order to be a truly great film.