Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

There has never been any doubt about the strength or originality of Tim Burton's imagination. His world is a unique one, with its sense of twisted gothic and constant flirtation with the darker, more lonely walkways of life (and death). The problem for him seems to come when trying to marry his vision to that of someone else. His adaptation of Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, while creative, saw him bolt on an unnecessary and distracting subplot about Wonka's childhood, while his version of Alice In Wonderland was a dissatisfying muddle of his and Carroll's ideas. Frankenweenie, however, while drawing on influences from the Golden Age of Universal horror movies such as The Wolfman and Frankenstein, is an animal entirely borne of Burton - and it's all the better for it.

It's also a project more than 20 years in the making. His idea of marrying a Frankenstein storyline to the tale of a young boy and his pet dog was first conceived back in the Eighties and saw the light of day in a Disney short film. Now, it has been given the 3D, feature-length stop-motion treatment and the result is an original adventure, with plenty for both adults and children to enjoy.

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Burton takes the idea of children as 'little monsters' to its logical conclusion in the monochrome world of New Holland, where Victor Frankenstein (a typically 'outsider' Burton protagonist), lives with his parents, his pet dog Sparky and the colourful world of his imagination. His school is full of other oddball kids, including a Weird Girl (Catherine O'Hara pulling triple vocal duty elsewhere), whose cat's poo tells fortunes and Edgar E Gore (Atticus Shaeffer), while at home Victor spends most of his time lost in a world of Super 8 movie making - an early snippet of which is an unbridled celebration of childhood filmmakers following in the footsteps of Burton everywere.

When Sparky's spark is put out unexpectedly, Victor struggles to cope until his science teacher Mr Rzykruski (Martin Landau in full Vincent Price tribute mode) talks about the links between electricity and life. It's not long before Victor has constructed a labour of love laboratory in his attic in a bid to bring Sparky back from the grave - a success, even if he does have a tendency to wag his tail off. When word of his achievement spreads around the school, it seems he is not the only one who is desperate to reanimate their pet. Life and death, however, are not something to trifle with and it isn't long before an odd collection of strangely familiar yet evil monsters are causing havoc in Victor's backyard.

Burton and screenwriter John August have got in touch with their inner child for the creatures that are unleashed. These monsters are very much what a youngster might imagine happening if something went wrong in a Frankenstein-style pet experiment. The result is a perfect mixture of creepy and comic - with one excellently set-up 'boo' sequence that is sure to get kids leaping from their seats in shock and then glee. Underneath the homage to Universal films that will keep adults movie-spotting, there is a strong sense of children's desire, and right, to be different. There are also some serious arguments underlying the fun regarding the use and abuse of science, the need to be open-minded and adventurous but not gung-ho, and children's experience of grief.

I couldn't help wishing that Burton had spared us the 'comedy Asian' mad scientist accent of Toshiaki (James Hiroyuki Liao) - a stereotype that still shows no sign of growing old for US audiences - and that Disney had let him opt for the slightly less sugar-coated 'rational' ending that is hinted at before being bulldozed into the feel-good zone. But these are no more than a couple of flea-bite gripes about this satisfying and adorable tale that mixes puppy love with monster mayhem.

Reviewed on: 12 Oct 2012
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The young Victor Frankenstein resurrects his beloved pet dog.
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Director: Tim Burton

Writer: John August

Starring: Martin Landau, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short

Year: 2012

Runtime: 87 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: UK

Festivals:

London 2012

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