October is finally upon the film world, delivering ghosts and monsters on our screen, but this year macabre madness has started with some family fare. Just one week after Genndy Tartakovsky’s Hotel Transylvania, Tim Burton comes back after the critically panned Dark Shadows earlier this year to give us an adaptation expansion to the cult 1984 short Frankenweenie. Initially fired by Disney for being too dark, the company decided to forgive Burton and give his idea a second go in an animated spin, with the risk that it may fail them again. Fortunately, the idea is brought back to life with a fresher take that might be the shot in the arm Tim Burton needs.
Frankenweenie is the classic boy and his dog story, but instead ending in the obvious tragic end, the end kickstarts the plot. Vincent decides to bring his beloved dog, Sparky, back to life for a science fair experiment after he is run over. When he comes to life, his fellow classmates begin to out due his experiment, causing the town to be sent into an uproar over the experiments. The film may be titled Frankenweenie, but Sparky is not the main focus, but rather Victor. The film plays to that strength by adding a tremendous amount of heart by showing Victor’s constant struggle for acceptance and earning his love for his dog again, all while having to deal with the neighborhood kids attempting to take his re-animation plans. Charlie Tahan plays Victor with both confidence and hopelessness that makes the emotional scenes with Sparky and his parents tug at the heart. The only problem with the film is the very abrupt ending that screenwriter John August has been trade marking since working with Burton.
The film also prevails with stunning voice acting with returning veterans from the early years of Tim Burton taking the reins. Catherine O’Hara (Beetlejuice, The Nightmare Before Christmas) and Martin Short (Mars Attack!) play Victor’s parent, Mrs. And Mr. Frankenstein, with substance and ease as a real parent, while also tackling different characters with Short’s mean Mr. Burgermeister and O’Hara’s aptly titled Weird Girl being a humorous yet perfect take on Rhoda from The Bad Seed. Winona Ryder (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands) and Martin Landau (Ed Wood, in which he won Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars) return in solo roles as Elsa van Helsing and Mr. Rzykruski respectively with Landau delivering a great (if small) mentor role to young Victor. The animation is also stellar going to the classic form of stop motion a la Coraline and The Nightmare Before Christmas in classic black and white, even if sometimes the animation gets a tad bit too smooth to looking like uncanny valley CGI.
Frankenweenie is a throwback to classic Burton as only Burton can deliver it, giving his older fans what they have been waiting since Big Fish to see again and newer fans an introduction at what made the creative mind fantastic in the first place. With animation beyond belief and a beating heart throughout, Frankenweenie electrifies the screen with charm and delight for everyone.