Frankenweenie (Tim Burton, 2012)
By returning to the relatively simple combination of gothic horror and comedy that he was so successful with in films like Ed Wood and Beetlejuice, Tim Burton has made his best film in almost ten years. A 100% Burton original (even if it is based on a short he made in the early 80s, as well as skeletally just an updating of Frankenstein), Frankenweenie is the story of a young boy named Victor. When his dog, Sparky, is run over by a car, he is devastated. Unable to live without his dog, he uses the power of science to bring him back to life.
The combination of gorgeous black and white photography and grotesque character design gives the film a style all its own. This is a complete 180 from the sumptuous (but soulless) design of recent films Dark Shadows and Alice in Wonderland. Frankenweenie is Burton’s first film in years that actually has a heart, due in no small part to the fact that, for once, he has a more than tenuous connection to the material.
While it could have easily devolved into a basic Frankenstein remake, the film succeeds in a big way because of the other directions Burton takes the story. There are homages to everything from Gremlins to Godzilla, from Dracula to Edward Scissorhands. It’s also a decidedly pro-science film, ballsy in a political climate that seems to reject anything of that nature.
There’s not a lot of heft to Frakenweenie. It hasn’t stuck with me twelve hours later, and I doubt I’ll watch it again. But the combination of all the elements I’ve already mentioned, as well as a great voice cast (including Burton vets Winona Ryder and Martin Landau, as well as Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short in multiple roles) and some incredibly subtle dry humor, added up to one of the more pleasant times I’ve spent watching a movie this year.