In 1984 a young and largely unknown filmmaker named Tim Burton wrote and directed a 30 minute short film called Frankenweenie, which charted the adventures of a boy who set about using his knowledge of science to try and revive his dead dog. 28 years, 16 films and an Oscar award later, Burton has revived his premise once more in an animated adventure following the young, gifted Victor Frankenstein and his beloved dog Sparky.
The film follows the same plot line, with the misanthropic Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan, I am Legend) spending his days making films starring his only friend, Sparky. You and I both know what happens to Sparky, and you’ll see it coming, but this makes the period from death to re-life no less heart wrenching (I freely admit feeling a lump in my throat more than once). However, this is merely one way in which you will emotionally connect with the film, with Victor’s social awkwardness being both instantly relatable and likeable, while every viewer will appreciate the love between a pet and its owner.
Living alongside our hero in his hometown of New Holland are a beautifully caricatured cast that could only have come from our Tim, with characters ranging from the wide eyed “Weird Girl” and her psychic cat, to the creepy and sinister Edgar “E” Gore. Particular kudos should also be given to Martin Landau for his voicing of Mr.Rzykruski, Victor’s eccentric science teacher, whose scene stealing voice ranges from quiet lecturing to a booming theatrical performance in the blink of an oversized eye.
Burton-holics should however be warned of the limited use of Winona Ryder, giving life to Victor’s next door neighbour Elsa Van Helsing. The film marks the end of a 21 year gap of the actor-director combo that proved so successful with the widely acclaimed Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands. However, this seems like a good move from Burton, who would have otherwise risked drawing too much attention from the Victor-Spike dynamic; besides, what scenes of Elsa that we are treated to are deliciously enjoyable, with her voice perfectly pitched for her dryly comic lines.
The film itself is genuinely funny: I caught myself with a smile on my face within the first few scenes of the film, and openly laughing at others: these largely involving the living and un-dead antics of Spike which make the character even more loveable than you’d have thought. Thrown in there are also a number of popular culture references for adults, and some classic gags you’re going to appreciate whatever your age.
Just as with its predecessors The Nightmare before Christmas and The Corpse Bride, our animated trip into Burton’s mind is brought to life with spectacular visuals; this is only further enhanced by the use of 3D, which rather than being used as a gimmick is subtly understated, bringing an extra dimension (sorry) to Dutchtown and its inhabitants.
Final verdict: This is Burton at his best: dark, twisted and uniquely comic, you can’t help but watch his take on the Frankenstein legend with a smile (and occasional grimace) on your face.