As if it wasn’t nice enough to see the classic Universal monsters back together again last week in Hotel Transylvania, this week along comes Tim Burton to show them up. While Hotel isn’t a complete failure, it ain’t got nothin’ on Burton’s own new masterpiece, Frankenweenie. The full-length stop-motion adaptation of the 1984 short film has finally arrived. The movie could even stand as a companion piece to August’s ParaNorman if it wasn’t so much better than that late-summer film.
Speaking of August, leave it to longtime Burton collaborator screenwriter John August (Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Big Fish) to write Burton’s best film in years. Chock full of beautiful animation and an enveloping use of 3D, the only film I can see beating this in my book could be next month’s Wreck-It Ralph.
In the small town of New Holland, Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) lives a quiet life with his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein (Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara), and his only friend, a dog named Sparky. Mr. Frankenstein wants Victor to know that you can have both science and sports instead of one or the other, but it’s at a baseball game that poor Sparky chases a homerun and is hit by a car.
Victor is so heartbroken that he takes science teacher Mr. Rzykruski’s (Martin Landau) class lesson to heart and conducts an experiment to bring Sparky back to life. He hides the reborn Sparky in the attic, but it’s not long before classmate Edgar “E” Gore (Atticus Shaffer) informs Victor that he knows his secret and forces him to show him how it’s done. Soon enough, the rest of the class all wants a piece of the action and things go from bad to worse, Gamera style.
All the classic Mary Shelley Frankenstein tropes get their due as Burton brings us everything one expects from a film of this ilk. Fortunately for the adults in the audience, Frankenweenie is a horror film first. There are plenty of “ew” moments and gross happenings; it is about a dog being brought back from the dead after all. But amongst the monstrous shenanigans lies the film’s greatest asset – a beating heart. Can a monster movie make you cry? If my wife is any indication, then it’s an emphatic yes – yes it can make you cry. Same goes for my 36-year-old male friend sitting on the other side of her. I may be in the minority who prefers Corpse Bride over The Nightmare Before Christmas (even if he didn’t actually direct it), but Frankenweenie stands as living proof that Burton’s animated adventures just keep getting better. It also stands as the year’s best animated film.
Photo courtesy Walt Disney Pictures