Tim Burton has made some great films in his career, and some not-so-great ones. Tinged with his signature darkness, they often take a trope and turn it on its head, changing the way we think about things. In “Frankenweenie,” his latest effort, we have Victor Frankenstein, a precocious young boy who loves his dog Sparky (aptly named), and when Sparky dies, Victor brings him back.
At least, that’s the story you know from the trailer. The twist is that young Victor is not motivated by the need to experiment or test the limits of science like the original Frankenstein, but rather, by love. It’s not entirely clear what the film is trying to say about love and science and life and death (eh, they’re not important), but it does create a “monster” in Sparky who is really only monstrous to those who don’t understand him. Yes, he’s stitched up and has two bolts stuck in his neck, but he’s still just Victor’s best friend. It’s an eighty-minute retelling of “don’t judge a book by its cover.” In a lot of ways, “Frankenweenie” is as much about changing the expectations of a “monster” as Mary Shelley’s original novel was.
The film is mostly for children, although it contains some lovely allusions to the great horror movies of the last century, thrown in for the adults. Its black-and-white claymation is outstanding; the backgrounds and characters appear almost real enough to touch. The film is in 3D, a technology I’ve always felt should be entirely reserved for cartoons, and it uses it the old fashioned way, with people and objects jumping out of the screen and making the kids in the audience jump too.
Directed by Tim Burton
Starring: Charlie Tahan, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short