Movie Review: Dead on arrival, Burton's 'Frankenweenie' fails to meet expectations
October 5, 2012
At this point, it is easy to predict what you’ll get when you see a Tim Burton film: spooky overtones, commentary on suburbia, artistic use (or overuse) of color, and, more often than not, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. And when Burton returns to his artistic roots of stop-motion (his first short film, as well as his work with the largest cult following were both in this style), you can assume you’re in for a treat. Sadly, when it comes to "Frankenweenie," Burton’s newest stop-motion feature based on his first short film of the same name, that assumption would be wrong. Yes, it was classically Burton-esque, but it failed to hit the mark.
Following the trend of eerie Burton stop-motion movies that feature dead pets ("The Nightmare Before Christmas" and "Corpse Bride" both had ghost dogs), "Frankenweenie" is the story of a boy aptly named Victor Frankenstein who uses the odd quality of the lightning in his town to reanimate the corpse of his departed dog, Sparky. Though this movie surprisingly doesn’t include Depp or Bonham Carter, it does feature the vocal talents of Winona Ryder (whose stop-motion counterpart looks identical to her character in "Beetlejuice." Catherine O’Hara ("Home Alone," "Best in Show" and Martin Short ("Three Amigos," "Father of the Bride."
Though many of Burton’s other films walk the line between creepy and charming, "Frankenweenie" falls squarely on the creepy side. The heart of the movie, a loving tale about a boy and his dog, is cute enough, but it is wrapped up in disconcerting b-plots. Victor’s classmates are reminiscent of the kid from "The Omen" and take up far too much screen time. When they start experimenting on their own and bringing back other deceased pets, the creatures on screen actually are the things of nightmares. Not to mention the fact that one character is such an incredibly offensive amalgamation of Asian stereotypes, my friend almost walked out of the movie in disgust.
Yes, there are cute moments in the movie between Victor and Sparky, and yes, there are moments that carry clear messages of tolerance and the yearning for education. But unlike other Burton movies, this black-and-white horror show feels completely inappropriate for its audience. The writing is sloppy and although the film is visually appealing (except for the occasional shiver-inducing monster), there is nothing below the surface to sustain it.
This Halloween, if you’re looking for a cute-but-quirky film, rewatch a Burton classic. If you’re looking for scares, go watch a legitimate horror movie. But honestly, avoid "Frankenweenie."