When Tim Burton makes a movie these days, I expect it to have the same hallucinatory style and unnecessary oddities. I walked into Frankenweenie expect more of the same, but was pleasantly surprised when – despite it containing the traditional Burton look – it turned out to be a great little kids flick with big old heart.
If you know the story of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, then you know the gist of Frankenweenie. Matching the directorial decision of his original live-action 30-minute Frankenweenie short (which you can see as a special feature on the Nightmare Before Christmas Blu-ray), Tim Burton has decided to do this stop-motion animated feature version in black & white – but the small town of New Holland is so stormy and grey that I wouldn’t expect much of a color palette from it anyway. New Holland feels extremely similar to the town of Edward Scissorhands. Each local person is just as strange as out young outcast, little Victor Frankenstein – the only difference is that Victor doesn’t have a single friend. The closest thing to friend that he has is his little dog Sparky.
While playing baseball one day, Victor knocks the ball out of the park. Being this little-man’s best friend, Sparky races into the street to retrieve the home-run ball and is hit and killed by a car. Knowing how attached Victor was to Sparky, the family gives Sparky a nice plot and headstone at the local pet cemetery.
Missing his best friend, Victor comes up with the crazy idea to resurrect Sparky based on his Vincent Price-esque science teacher’s demonstration of how energy runs through the core of every living being. Late at night, Victor sneaks out of his house, goes to the pet cemetery and dig up Sparky. With borrowed appliances, Victor rigs his parents’ attic to handle the electricity and raises Sparky’s modified and reassembled corpse into the lightning-filled sky. I think we all know the story goes from here – with bolts on his neck and stitching holding his body together, Sparky is reanimated. What happens after the Sparky is brought back to life is where Frankenweenie differs from the original short film. Expect excitement and some mildly scary moments, but nothing that kids can’t handle.
Frankenweenie doesn’t come close to reaching the same refreshing entertainment level as Burton’s Big Fish (which is my personal Burton favorite), but it’s better than most of his recent films and much better than you might expect. Give Frankenweenie a chance. Not only will your kids enjoy it, but it just might place a little spark in your heart too.
Photo credit: Buena Vista