Back in the early 80’s, Tim Burton, who was working as an animator at Disney’s, wanted to create a stop-motion animation called Frankenweenie. Yet the studio felt the cost was too excessive, which then lead to Burton creating a short film of it. Finished in 1984, Disney thought the final product was too dark for its audience, fired Burton, and shelved the film. Twenty years later Burton revisited this old project of his and in 2010, began filming Frankenweenie as a stop motion animation under, yes, the exact company that fired him for the exact same project, Disney.
Victor Frankenstein is a boy fascinated with science and disinterested in outdoor sports or socializing and always spends his day with his beloved dog, Sparky. Be it making films with his Super 8 and handmade dioramas or anything else, he does it with his best bud Sparky. But, as the title and the poster suggest, one day Sparky dies, leaving Victor lonely and devastated. In a science class sometime after Sparky’s death, Victor’s favorite teacher Mr. Rzykruski demonstrates how electricity can animate a dead frog. Inspired by this, Victor goes on to dig Sparky’s grave and tries to resurrect him. Alas, the story of Victor succeeding in reviving his dog doesn’t stay secret for long. Soon, his classmates hear of it and with the town’s science fair coming near, everyone wants a piece of pet resurrection as well and everything just goes wrong from then on.
With a 1950’s monochrome American suburb called New Holland as its background, Frankenweenie has the essentials of a Burton production—fun, odd, ghoulish characters living naturally in a Burton-esque world. However, the best thing about Frankenweenie that we haven’t seen in a Burton movie for a while is that it’s got heart—something that this summer’s underwhelming Dark Shadows lacks of. Frankenweenie reminds you that other than having the ability to create the craziest characters and casting Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter flawlessly, he can also create something rather heartwarming, like what he did back in 2003 with Big Fish. This is the first time in nine years that he doesn’t feature Depp in a movie and also the first time in thirteen years that he doesn’t feature his real life partner, Helena Bonham Carter. And surprisingly, it’s a lot better than what he has brought us for quite some time. A lot of Corpse Bride’s animation crew is involved in this film and Burton also approached John August, who wrote Big Fish, to write the screenplay.
One of the things that make Burton want to return to the story is probably because of its somewhat autobiographical aspect. The eccentric science teacher Mr. Rzykruski is based on his own mentor and personal friend, the late horror movie icon Vincent Price. Mr. Rzykurski provides one of the most entertaining scenes in the film, where he heartlessly calls his students’ parents stupid, ignorant for not understanding and embracing science—a point that is and will always be relevant. Everything in the film is said to be based on somebody or a combination of some people he actually knew, and be rest assured that they are never boring. From a hunchbacked, slimy little dude called Edgar to a loopy figure that feels like a twisted version of Luna Lovegood credited simply as “weird girl”, you can’t get a more varied group of elementary school kids than this.
The climax and overall feel of the film is something that classic horror movie fans will surely appreciate, but there’s no reason for those who are unfamiliar with it to not be able to enjoy the film fully. Although the ending of the film feels too candy-coated and disappointing, all in all it’s still a really good film and although its compatibility with small kids is a bit questionable, the general audience will most probably find it charming and even hilarious at times. Definitely a good, classic Burton film.