Over the past year, stop motion animation has been seeing a resurgence in popularity that mainly started after the release of Coraline in 2009. First Aardman went back to plasticine with the excellent The Pirates In An Adventure With Scientists and Laika continued their dominance in stop motion with ParaNorman (which I haven’t seen yet). Now the last of the big stop motion films has come out, Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie. After Dark Shadows which was viewed by most people to be terrible but which I really liked, this is Tim Burton going back to his roots by remaking a short film that got him fired from Disney. So how does the film hold up: it’s Burton’s best film in years.
The first thing I have to say is that the animation is gorgeous. The stop motion animation is incredible and the designs of all the characters are all distinctly Burton-esque. Helping this is the black and white cinematography which is reminiscent of all of the classic horror films that inspire the film, in particular Frankenstein. The animation and the black and white cinematography meld together so perfectly that I can’t imagine the film being made in anything other than black and white stop motion. The little details as well also enhance the film, like some live action stuff (mainly a TV showing one of the Christopher Lee Dracula films) which helps to enhance the world that Burton is trying to create with New Holland, a surrealist version of small town America.
There is also the fact that the film is able to mix being smart, heart-warming and laugh out loud hilarious. The main area of the film which mixes in all of these aspects is an overall message about science which is very appropriate in the science fearing society in America, coming to a head in a very funny scene in which the science teacher modelled on Vincent Price, Mr Rzykruski, voiced by Martin Landau, calls the townspeople idiots for not understanding modern science. Additional humour in the film derives from some of the points of influence that the film takes, from the Universal Frankenstein films, to Creature From The Black Lagoon and even Gremlins and Gamera. All of these feel right in a film like this and add to the overall atmosphere that the film is trying to create.
The main heart-warming nature of the film comes through the characters, in particular the main relationship between Victor and Sparky. Throughout the film, even will all the insane stuff that happens in the final reel, the film never loses sight on what the true focus on the film should be, Victor and Sparky. This leads to a lot of heart-warming moments of Victor being simply overjoyed at having his best friend back again and there are actually a lot of powerful scenes involving just Sparky realising what he is. This is what gives Frankenweenie its heart and is the main reason why the film works so well. The other characters are also great with 2 exceptions, one is Edgar Gore, who can get a bit annoying at some points in the film, and Elsa Van Helsing who is really under-developed as a character, the romantic sub-plot between her and Victor seems a bit forced and Winona Ryder’s voice doesn’t really fit the character, it would have been better if a younger actress voiced this character.
Overall, this is a brilliant film. The animation, humour, message, characters all work together brilliantly to make one of the best animated films to come along in a long time and is easily the best film Tim Burton has made in years. Despite there being some problems, the film is still a triumph and I say to anyone who hasn’t seen it already to go out and see Frankenweenie.
My Rating: 4.5/5