Film Review: Burton’s childish take on classic ‘Frankenstein’ doesn’t take

Film Review: Burton’s childish take on classic ‘Frankenstein’ doesn’t take
ictor happily examines his beloved dog Sparky after he successfully brings him back to life in "Frankenweenie," a new stop-motion, animated comedy from director Tim Burton. "Frankenweenie" opens in theaters Oct. 5, 2011. Photo courtesy of Disney Enterprises. All Rights Reserved.

Although “Frankenweenie” lacks the depth and originality we have come to expect from Tim Burton’s moviemaking style, it still manages to be decent entertainment and a welcoming return to form for hardcore Burton fans. 

After years of digging his own grave from films that included chocolate factories, murderous barbers, wonderlands, and houses full of dark shadows, Burton goes back to his roots and finds modest redemption in this stop-motion animated feature.

If I may be honest, I wasn’t expecting much out of “Frankenweenie;” the last several years have not been kind to its director. Fortunately, this film reignites that dark, quirky-themed trademark that drew moviegoers to Burton in the first place.

It’ll do for now…until Burton gets back on his feet. That is, if he ever does.

Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) and his beloved bull terrier, Sparky (an uncredited Frank Welker), share an unbreakable bond — one that ends on a painful note after a car accident kills the dog.

Harnessing the powers of science, Victor conducts an experiment that brings his dog back to life.

But the more Victor tries to hide Sparky from the rest of the world, the more Sparky wants to get out and explore, which causes unintentional havoc.

On the upside, the animation is top notch, demonstrating an energetic fluidity that would make even a computer-animated feature smile with pride.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen stop-motion animation on the big screen, and “Frankenweenie” doesn’t disappoint in this aspect.

Plus, it’s good to see the older animation techniques haven’t completely died out; watching traditional cartoons disappear into obscurity wasn’t easy.

I found the black-and-white color palate to have a unique visual impact on the overall appearance of the story.

Throughout the film’s 87 minute running time, you feel as if you were experiencing a classic horror/monster film from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

This retro atmosphere is a welcome relief from the overly bright colors seen in the majority of animated features nowadays.

On the downside, the narrative of “Frankenweenie” leans too far in the “been there, done that” direction. The story is a canine’s take on Mary Shelley’s classic work, “Frankenstein,” so with the exception of the light-hearted quirkiness, don’t go in expecting too many differences.

Many of the settings and scenarios have this recycled feeling to them as well, like they’ve been borrowed from all of Burton’s previous work. Had “Frankenweenie” opted for a more original story, then the end result might have been better.

I also got the impression the voice actors did not fully invest themselves into their characters. While the chemistry between Victor and Sparky is well played, the other cast members either are not given much to do or make half-hearted attempts to branch out of their roles.

Atticus Shaffer has his humorous moments as the deformed Edgar, but beyond his purpose as comic relief, there isn’t much to what he does.

Martin Landau should have had more material to work with for the character of Mr. Rzykruski. Winona Ryder doesn’t receive the attention she deserves as a longtime Tim Burton collaborator, nor does she breathe life into her Elsa van Helsing. Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short show no limits for the multiple parts they voice, but their characters are just there for the sake of being there.

In spite of its hollow characters and weak storyline, “Frankenweenie” is a visual delight that should satisfy anyone in the mood for a fun animated feature with an old school ambiance.

I just hope Burton makes a solid comeback in the vein of films such as “Beetlejuice,” “Edward Scissorhands,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “Batman,” and “Big Fish.”

Sooner or later, he’s going to have to dig himself out of the hole he dug.

 

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