Frankenweenie (2012): Film Review

Tim Burton is ALIVE!

After the disappointing Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter that he produced and the underwhelming Dark Shadows, you would wonder whether Tim Burton would end this year with a third strike and send him out of the game for a good long while. But, as they say, third’s time a charm and one of my favorite filmmakers in the world has proven it. His last feature of 2012, Frankenweenie, is the winning bat.

When young Victor Frankenstein lost his dog Sparky to a car accident, he was desolate. But inspired by a lesson in science class and his own father’s words (“If we could bring him back alive, we would”), Victor came up with a way to resurrect Sparky. So he did. Then someone found out his secret and all hell – literally – broke loose. In the ensuing chaos, a love letter was born… to the people, the characters and the films that made Tim Burton the filmmaker that he is today.

It’s clearly a very personal movie. Burton made Frankenweenie as a short film for Disney back when he was a 25-year-old animator working for the company. But the project was shelved and he got depressed. So it’s sweetly ironic that he got to resurrect this project for the same studio that cancelled it. As such, it comes as no surprise that there’s a myriad of references to Burton’s old movies and the classic ones he used to watch as a child. There was everything from Edward Scissorhands to Batman, and The Mummy to Gremlins, and even Godzilla, complete with a Japanese character (a boy named Toshiaki). But instead of pastiche, the ‘borrowed’ ideas did not only create much of the film’s humor but also brought to it a thrilling and captivating sense of adventure.

While the idea is probably not refreshing (Cabin In The Woods is also a movie that was a love/hate letter to horror movies), the feeling of freshness is prevalent throughout. The reason for that is the wide-eyed innocence of the narrators, Victor and Sparky. As we follow the story from the boy and his dog’s points of view, we are taken back into our childhood. Whether you were lucky enough to own a pet when you were young or not, that special friendship with someone or something you had when you were little was evoked so powerfully in this relationship that Victor had with Sparky.

But none of this would probably work if the film hadn’t been in black and white. I couldn’t not imagine the film being as wonderful if it had been in color. It could be that we associate black and white photographs to the past and so the vision of story became more powerful that way. Or it could be that the black and white softened the morbidity of the story. Or maybe it was Burton’s way to subtly direct us to focus on the story so that we wouldn’t get distracted by the visuals. Whatever it was, this technique worked. And it worked perfectly.

Anyone tired of seeing modern-day animated movies, with all the smooth digital rendering and life-like images, would also find the animation in this movie highly attractive. As Burton said, stop motion seemed like a dead art in filmmaking. Certainly, the most successful animated movies in recent years hadn’t been done in stop motion. But Frankenweenie will give us a new appreciation for it. Even if it doesn’t help to sell tickets of the stop motion animated movies, it will at least show people that the art is, like Sparky, pretty much alive.

I cannot give this movie enough praise. It’s simply an experience to have on your own. It may have a logic-defying plot but is thoroughly heartfelt, evocative, adventurous, exhilarating, fantastical and magical: very entertaining for kids – a way to experience monsters without having to have nightmares later – but profound enough for adults to enjoy. And who knows, maybe it’ll inspire parents to understand their kids better? Because my favorite line from the movie is one that I would hold dear for the rest of my life and probably one day convey to my child.

    Victor’s dad to Victor: “Sometimes adults don’t know what they’re talking about.”*

And that is, really, the message that Burton seemed to be trying to tell us: sometimes being an adult is boring, so trust your inner child and just have fun. I could be wrong, of course, but heck, that’s a pretty damn good line anyway.

Frankenweenie is easily one of my favorite movies of 2012, along with – among others – The Artist, The Avengers, Prometheus and The Raid. I would recommend it to everyone. And yes, I will recommend this in 3D.

* Note: This quote is an approximation. I will correct it later with the real one from the movie.

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