Tim Burton goes to the stop motion animation well one more time...what could go wrong?
October 7, 2012 2:19 pmTerry Yates
Tim Burton’s name on a movie usually means good things are in store. However, it seems in recent memory Burton’s name has become the hallmark of cliché. Clown white makeup, Johnny Depp acting silly, Danny Elfman music in every...single...frame, gothic art deco styling to the sets and scenery. The movie’s seem to use Burton as an affectation instead of a background element that ties his movies together stylistically. Frankenweenie is the apex of Burton cliché and that’s not a good thing.
I think had ParaNorman not been released before this movie, it would be another matter. It’s in what ParaNorman accomplished as a film and piece of stop motion animation that makes Frankenweenie pale in comparison. ParaNorman oozes character, from the "actors", to the backgrounds, and an even handed story that at the very least may have been a bit too mature for young children. Burton’s film, on the other hand, is flat and boring, it’s not visually interesting in the slightest and seems to be in black and white only to give it some sort of affected “look”.
Another problem, who is the target audience of this film? The movie is a bit too high-minded and boring for young kids and a bit too lethargic and extra boring for those who may have grown up on Burton’s earlier stop motion efforts. There’s nothing really in the middle for both camps to like, outside of the boy and his dog storyline.
Frankenweenie tells the story of Victor Frankenstein, a young boy with a mind for science and budding movie maker, and his pet dog, Sparky. In a trade off for allowing Victor to participate in the school science fair, Victor’s dad makes him play baseball. Victor uses scientific methodology at the plate and hit’s a home run, Sparky gives chase to the ball and is hit by a car. After learning about electricity’s effect on the nervous system in dead things, Victor is inspired to perhaps see if he can bring Sparky back from the dead.
He succeeds and "hilarity" ensues, with Sparky chasing after a cat, and general dog shenanigans. It is in this dead dog romp that he is noticed by Edgar, one of Victor’s classmates. Edgar then blackmails Victor in to showing how he brought back Sparky by bringing back a goldfish for him. Edgar can hardly contain himself as he brags to fellow classmates who then go out on their own and reanimate their former beloved pets…to horrifying results.
Frankenweenie’s first half-hour or so is the strongest part of the film, when it’s just focusing on Victor and Sparky. In it’s the ensuing hour the film completely loses that tiny spark of half-ingenuity. When the pet turtle becomes a giant monster that stomps through the town square, the film is so far away from what made it watchable it’s pathetic. Victor’s classmates are flat, uninteresting characters with one or two things that are supposed to make them visually compelling. Edgar looks like Igor, another kid looks and moves like the Frankenstein monster, a little girl with a cat has a wide vacant look in her eyes and hands out prophetic cat shits to her classmates.
After dispatching most of the evil pets, the townsfolk blame this terror on Sparky and chase him to a windmill. Victor chases after trying to save his supposed “love interest” Elsa, who‘s been carried off by the lone remaining evil pet, a bat/cat creature. The windmill catches fire, trapping Elsa and Victor, but Sparky saves the day, but winds up being re-killed in his efforts. The townspeople feel bad, use their cars to recharge Sparky. The End.
Frankenweenie has none of the imagination or whimsy of ParaNorman, which is probably why I found it so lackluster and unwatchable. Had ParaNorman not preceded this movie, I think it would’ve been a different story. You can see where Frankenweenie took it’s inspiration, namely the stop motion classics of Rankin/Bass, but it only cribbed the aesthetic and nothing more. It’s a collection of Tim Burton cliché’s all wrapped up in one movie and it’s pretty gross to watch.
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