Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Charlie Tahan, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder
Running Time: 87 mins
Release: 17th October
Tim Burton works best when he’s making movies about creative weirdos who live in blandtonia; a place where blind acceptance is the order of the day. It’s not that much of a leap to say that his only good movies were those about an exaggerated version of his own life, with facsimiles of himself and lots of wacky darkness thrown in. Said weirdos would find love and understanding, the narrow minded townsfolk would see the error of their ways and the spindly hero would be vindicated. Hooray.
This is the problem. He is predictable to the point of nausea; even Ed Wood followed the aforementioned format, and this was a movie about a real person who ultimately became a pornographer. A marginally less annoying problem surrounding Burton, and only so because it doesn’t diminish some perfectly fine movies, is the gradual realisation that he just isn’t a particularly good director. He has one move. When required to dance a little more inventively he flails all over the place and Planet of The Apes happens.
Thankfully, there’s no waddling Helena Bonham Carter to be seen here. Matter of fact, Frankenweenie is a return to Burton’s (relative) highs. It perfectly follows his format, which is fitting considering it’s a remake of his own original short film. Vincent Frankenstein has no friends and makes adorable home movies with his dog, Sparky. Sparky dies. He resurrects him out of love, but then his classmates find out and want to use his loving science for nefarious means (in this case, to win the science fair). It’s a deft little story and well executed. If you have children and want to freak them out a bit for halloween you could do a lot worse, particularly as some of Burton’s life lessons are hammered in so thoroughly. A reanimated corpse could grasp that the gym teacher saying “sometimes knowing too much is the problem” is quite clearly in the wrong.
While it may be stunningly unsubtle, there is still quite a lot to like about Frankenweenie. The only style that suits Burton more than claymation is black and white, so it looks incredible. Aside from the visuals, the film’s main strength is its secondary characters. Martin Landau as a terrifying eastern European science teacher is the exact right balance between creepy and hilarious (a balance Burton hasn’t struck in years), and Vincent’s school friends are all variations of horror icons: Peter Lorre, Christopher Lee, Boris Karloff, everybody’s here. It’s a novel way of keeping older viewers interested and rather perfectly toes the line between clever and smug. On top of these characters are a lot of affectionate parodies of horror tropes, right down to a big showdown at a funfair. The familiarity will amuse older viewers as the peril enraptures the younger ones. These two traits are strong enough that allied with the very funny supporting cast the film manages to rise above its predictable Burton-ness.