Tim Burton | 83 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | PG / PG
Inspired by two of Burton’s early-’80s shorts (which are most commonly found on Nightmare Before Christmas DVDs), Frankenweenie takes the black-and-white stop-motion visual style from Vincent and the storyline from the live-action Frankenweenie, and expands them out into a feature-length offering.
The story is as simple as one you’d expect from a short: young Victor Frankenstein’s dog dies; for a school science project, he resurrects him. It works surprisingly well stretched to a feature running time, although it goes a little haywire at the climax (what’s the point of all the monsters, really?)
Even if the narrative is no great shakes, there’s plenty of fun to be had along the way. The dog, Sparky (ho ho), is very well observed; indeed, all of the animation is naturally top-notch. It retains an indefinable but desirable stop-motion-ness, something I felt Burton’s previous animation, Corpse Bride, lacked — it was so smooth that while watching I began to wonder if I’d misremembered and it was actually CGI. Frankenweenie is attractively shot on the whole, with gorgeous lighting and classy black-and-white designs. Although US funded, I believe it was actually created in the UK, so hurrah us.
There’s lots of fun references for classic horror aficionados… though, actually, they’re not that obscure: they’ll fly past inexperienced youngsters, but be identifiable to anyone who has a passing familiarity with Universal’s classic horror output. For the kiddies, there’s some good moral messages tossed in the mix, though the best — a brief subplot lambasting America’s attitude to science — should be heeded by all.
Some say it doesn’t have enough of an edge. Well, maybe; but I thought it was surprisingly dark in places. Not so considering it’s a Tim Burton film based on resurrecting the dead, but for a Disney-branded animation, yes. Those edgier bits are here and there rather than consistent, but still, I’m not sure what those critics were expecting from a PG-rated Disney animation. I guess there’s an argument that Burton should have pushed it further and aimed for an adult audience, but can you imagine an American studio agreeing to finance an animation primarily targeted at anyone who’s entered their teens? Because I can’t.
Even if you have to make some allowances for the kid-friendly necessity of Disney animation, I think Burton and co have taken an idea which showed little promise to sustain a full-length feature, and produced a film that’s beautifully made and a lot of fun.