, Newburyport, MA

October 4, 2012

'Frankenweenie' shows Burton at his best

By Greg Vellante Correspondent
Newburyport Daily News

---- — For anybody who has ever looked at a Tim Burton film and pondered the driving stimuli behind the filmmaker’s weird worlds and kooky characters, “Frankenweenie” holds the answer to some of these key questions.

It is, in many ways, an animated tour de force that perfectly encapsulates both the wide-eyed, aspiring filmmaker Burton was and the distinctive auteur he has become.

A feature length adaptation of the director’s identically named 1984 animated short, “Frankenweenie” is an idea nearly 30 years in the making, with inspirations that extend far beyond the decades of Burton’s career.

Even a simple scene in a classroom introducing the key children characters of the film is so much more than it first appears. The humpbacked oddity Edgar Gore is a clear allusion the classic character of Igor, and the looming physique of a character named Nassor immediately brings to mind actor Boris Karloff.

And our conspicuously named protagonist, Victor Frankenstein, is one directly lifted from the pages of the classic novel and films that followed — right up to the act of raising his beloved dead dog Sparky to the storm-filled skies through a window in the roof, channeling a lightning bolt to the corpse, and bringing the canine back to life.

Thus making “Frankenweenie” the perfect cocktail of inspiration and imagination — a trademark Burton in its look and feel, the film also pays generous respect to the movies and stories that crafted a mind like Burton’s in the first place.

To spoil the endlessly inventive routes the film takes in its 87 minutes of compact genius would be criminal. “Frankenweenie” is bursting with nonstop surprises and well-placed references that never exclude but rather invite viewers to participate and learn about the ideas being alluded to.

For anyone who receives the often gleeful, sometimes frightening, always fun kick in the pants this film will easily provide you with, there is an entire library of predecessors that will offer equal enjoyment. There’s a whole history behind “Frankenweenie,” one that is never explicitly stated though relevant in every single frame.

And, my, the film is gorgeous to behold. While I rarely advocate 3D, it works with animation and especially so for “Frankenweenie,” as the gothic compositions of its black-and-white palette eliminate any dimness or color issues that arise normally with watching a 3D film. The images crisp and bright, the 3D works here though as always, it is merely a surplus.

The true dimensions of the film come from its monumental hilarity and immeasurable heart. When the characters on screens were of the canine or feline variety, the movie takes on the enchanting vibe of a silent picture — the most generous laughs due not to dialogue, but to the vibrant actions of some very funny cats and dogs.

But what makes the film most special is its sentiment, with Burton handling the art of emotion almost flawlessly from start to finish. Even 10 minutes in, as Sparky runs into the street and is hit by a car, I was moved. And equally so later on, when a combination of lightning and love has Victor’s treasured pet barking and wagging its tail once more.

While certainly exciting, adventurous, and with a decent helping of scares and laughs stemming from the monster movie genre, deep down “Frankenweenie” is just a simple film about a boy and his dog.