Frankenweenie is an animated family film by Tim Burton that accomplishes the dual task of breathing fresh life into Burton’s career, and paying homage to those great classic black and white horror films of last century. I delighted in this stop-motion labor of love, a taste of the quirky genius of “early Burton” re aesthetics and the fun original story that riffs on old monster movies.
When I heard Burton was making an animated “old-school” claymation movie out of Frankenweenie, I was generally excited. Despite feeling that Burton was losing his creative edge after visually choatic but basically dismal films like Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows, I was willing to hope that Frankenweenie would be the return of the “early Burton” that I loved and revered. The Burton with the macabre creative sensibilities that spawned Nightmare Before Christmas and Beetlejuice.
And I am happy to announce this clever film was a true delight to fans who have not yet lost hope. I can’t over emphasize how good a decision it was for Burton to return to his roots, to the quirky claymation and darkly bizarre yet charming stories that made him so great in the first place.
Premiering at Fantastic Fest 2012, Austin’s own celebration of the bizarre in cinema that launched last night with a very strong roster of films that included Dredd 3D, Frankenweenie and American Mary (among others), Frankenweenie started things off on just the right note. A film festival that showcases the best of the best in genre film, Fantastic Fest was the perfect place to premiere a film that had a magnificently macabre aesthetic from a director with a long history of exploring the weird underbelly of “normal.”
Teaming up with Disney again, Burton brought one of his original ideas from the old days (read early in his career when he was a lowly Disney artist) to life on the big screen in one of his best mediums; stop-motion puppetry. That means that despite a world where filming techology has advanced so far that special effects can pretty much do anything, Burton and co. spent endless hours building sets, modeling “clay” puppets, and then painstakingly arranging/manipulating them as they put this movie together literally frame to frame.
Hats off to old-school claymation, which I prefer over the smooth CGI animation of today without a doubt. There’s something whimsical in this art form, something that has withstood time and crazy advances in animation.
Burton actually has done an animated short of this film, as well as a very under-hyped (and I’m not saying without good reason) live action version back in the 80s. It has taken decades for him to finally bring it to life as it was meant to be, black and white claymation with extraordinary voice talents, the moody mucial of Danny Elfman, and that macabre Burton aesthetic.
The story is simple; a boy loses his favored pet dog Sparky when it gets run over by a car. After being inspired by a scary science teacher a la Vincent Price, the boy brings his dog back to life much as Frankenstein did. But messing with the forces of nature never ends well, and as the boy deals with being a strange loner in a school of quirky and merciless schoolmates, the choas definitely mounts.
I’m not sure I can/need to say more. Go see this movie. If you ever liked Burton, and if you’re willing to forgive him his last decade of movie-making, then give this movie a chance. Not only is it charming (again, not in the typical way), but the artwork is incredible. And I think you already know how I feel about the medium. It hits theaters on October 5th (and isn’t October the perfect season for it?)
Burton’s back…and may he stay that way.