Tim Burton’s new full-length animated remake of one of his earliest works, the 1984 live-action short of the same name, is one of his best films in ages. I know, as many cynical cinéastes will undoubtedly think, that’s not saying much, what with all the wretched Johnny Depp re-imaginings that have been cluttering Burton’s career in the last decade, but still FRANKENWEENIE is a demented delight.
In the same black and white stop-motion style and character aesthetics as Burton’s THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and THE CORPSE BRIDE, we get the tale of a New Holland boy named Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan), whose beloved bull terrier gets hit by a car. Inspired by his intense science teacher (voiced by Martin Landau), Victor rigs his attic so that he can harness the power of lightning to bring his dog, the aptly named Sparky, back to life.
It works, except that Sparky’s stitched together body parts occasionally fall off and he leaks when he drinks water. Victor hides his walking dead dog from his parents (wonderfully voiced by Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara) and the rest of the town, but the secret gets out, and the other kids in the neighborhood start conducting their own life-regenerating experiments.
This results in a finale filled with lovingly placed and witty nods to classics like GODZILLA (a monstrous fire-breathing turtle terrorizes the town walking upright on its back legs), and GREMLINS (wild oversized sea-monkeys), all with the backdrop of the sterile suburbia of Burton’s own EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.
That’s not the only self reference to Burton’s past - Winona Ryder voices the girl next door (whose name happens to be Elsa Van Helsing), the before-mentioned Landau does what he did for Bela Lugosi in ED WOOD in his handling of the very Vincent Price-ish Mr. Rzykruski, the science teacher, and O’Hara, in her first Burton movie since 1988’s BEETLEJUICE, voices three characters, including the ginormous eyed ‘Weird Girl.’
Although I like that the funny and frightening (in a family-friendly way) FRANKENWEENIE is the first black and white (and first stop-motion film) to be released in IMAX 3D, as usual the 3D did nothing for me. But the new fangled presentation doesn’t diminish the charge I got from seeing Burton getting back to basics, and finding his old fire in the process.