Review: Frankenweenie

Social outcasts? Check.

Monochrome colour palate? Check.

Horror references? Check.

Yup, must be another Tim Burton film. Thankfully, Frankenweenie–the American director’s second film of the year following the dire Dark Shadows–is a return to form and a delight. While it is essentially a “kid’s movie”, its themes of re-animation and horror may not be appropriate for younger crowds. Still, Frankenweenie does a far better job of teaching pre-teen and early-teen audiences the sort of values that will be far more beneficial to their lives than being able to kick a football, and does it with more invention and originality than other more colourful, cutesy animations.

Adapted from a 1984 live action short of the same name starring Shelley Duvall (The Shining), Frankenweenie is Burton’s creative and intellectual reinvigoration. Returning to his roots of subversive gothic horror amongst the American suburbia, territory he has visited many times, it’s still a fresh and exciting venture. The larger than life story of Victor (voice of Charlie Tahan, Charlie St Cloud) and his attempts to bring his dearly departed dog, Sparky, back from the grave is wonderfully aided by the flexible, hand-crafted art of stop-motion claymation. The black and white colour scheme is richly evocative of Frankenstein, but also other classic titles The Mummy, Gamera and, in one hilarious sight gag, Bride of Frankenstein. All references that pepper the screenplay by frequent Burton collaborator John August.

Victor (Charlie Tahan) and re-animated Sparky in Frankenweenie

Following Corpse Bride in 2005, which Burton directed, and The Nightmare Before Christmas, which Burton produced, Frankenweenie is delightfully warped take on a typical children’s movie. Burton’s penchant for twisted character design and freakish design aesthetic fit right at home in this wonderful universe. The supremely long-faced science teacher Mr Rzykruski (Martin Landau, Ed Wood), the bug-eyed feline-friendly Weird Girl (Catherine O’Hara, Best in Show), and the fantasy girl next door Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder, Beetlejuice) are just some of the fabulous characters that Frankenweenie uses to expand its universe beyond the 29-minute runtime of the original. While the middle act could have used some tightening, it never bores thanks to the barrage of visual inventiveness on screen.

Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder) and Weird Girl (Catherine O’Hara) watch on in Frankensweenie

Burton has assembled a fabulous voice cast, many of which (such as the splendid O’Hara and Martin Short, Father of the Bride) perform multiple roles. Elsewhere, Danny Elfman’s score is sublime with pangs of tragedy, and another example of how this project has added zest to the most tired of collaborations. While I can’t recommend the 1984 original enough (it is locally available on The Nightmare Before Christmas DVD), this feature adaptation is a winning modern day reincarnation that is a must see for anybody who thinks they don’t fit it (and their parents!) Visually captivating and smartly written, Frankenweenie brings Tim Burton’s career back from the metaphorical dead.


Frankenweenie is released in Australia on October 25th

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Charlie Tahan, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Winona Ryder, Martin Landau, Conchata Ferrell, Robert Capron, Tom Kenny, James Hiroyuki Liao, Atticus Shaffer and Christopher Lee.