What else can you expect from Tim Burton but an eccentric marriage of the quirky, the comic, and occasionally the macabre? The director’s most recent stop-motion animated film, Frankenweenie, brings that formula back to the silver screen – quite literally, too, since the film is in black and white in true vintage horror film fashion.
The plot of the film centers on a young Victor Frankenstein (not quite an original name, but it’s fitting, as the film is a tribute to both Mary Shelley’s classic novel and its 1931 film adaptation starring Boris Karloff). Victor is a young boy fascinated by science, machinery, and invention. When he isn’t learning about electricity and hypotheses at New Holland Elementary, he spends most of his time in his attic concocting new gadgets alongside his faithful dog, Sparky.
As might be expected of any other brainiac, Victor doesn’t have many friends. He usually stays away from his odd cast of classmates – from the tall and intimidating Nassor, to the puny and off-putting Edgar (Burton’s nod to Frankenstein’s assistant, Igor). Nevertheless, Victor always finds a loyal friend in Sparky.
Tragedy strikes, however, and Victor is robbed of his canine companion. But not for long. Victor soon puts his intellect to work, and with a little help from Mother Nature, brings Sparky back to life. What entails is a creepy and endearing tale about friendship (even if it’s with a dog) and the love of science.
Like most Tim Burton films, Frankenweenie has a rather peculiar visual style. Some of the characters look downright disturbing, and much of the atmosphere surrounding the film is ghoulish and bleak. As such, it may not be a prudent first choice if you’re thinking of taking your little sibling with you (unless you intend to inflict some psychological punishment on him/her). But for the rest of us, it’s a welcome change to the Technicolor explosions that assault our eyes in theaters these days.
One of the things that make Frankenweenie stand out from most other animated movies is that it’s smart. And not just smart in the sense that it’s got clever jokes or witty puns. It’s smart in the sense that it teaches you about the pursuit of knowledge – the pursuit of scientific knowledge, in particular. As the Vincent Price-ean Mr. Rzykruski (that’s his name – I didn’t sneeze while I was typing) says to Victor, “People like what science gives them, but not the questions that science asks.” This movie makes us think twice about the gifts and possibilities that science can give us.
Frankenweenie is a ghastly yet sweet pre-Halloween treat that’s sure to please veteran Tim Burton fans as well as casual moviegoers. Next to Paranorman, it’s likely the most fun you’ll have with an animated film all year.