I, like most people longed for Tim Burton to return to his roots and do what he does best. After the woeful DARK SHADOWS I had lost all faith that Burton had any good ideas left in his arsenal until the trailer for FRANKENWEENIE gave me the slightest bit of hope. To some extent some of my favorite Burton-esque aspects are on full display in his latest film, but this is by no means the return form that I personally hoped for.
The film follows a young boy, Victor, whose beloved dog Sparky is tragically killed in an accident. With the inspiration from a teacher’s lesson Victor sets out to bring Sparky back to life all while his classmates are desperately searching for a science project that will blow people’s minds. When Victor’s experiment works there are a series of unintended consequences that threaten to destroy the community.
The most transparent thing about the film is how Burton intentionally plays with the vulnerabilities of pet owners. Being a pet owner myself there are parts of this movie that really did tug at my heartstrings, but begrudgingly so. When a film earns those more emotional beats its one thing, but when a filmmaker is intentionally exploiting those feelings and I’m aware of it, it’s far less effective. Sure there is a sweetness and innocence about the bond between Victor and Sparky, but given the more monster heavy finale I couldn’t help but feel that Burton was trying way too hard to force horror into a film that could have benefited from having less of it.
I really dig the black and white visual style and I even like a lot of the monster moments towards the end- but that doesn’t mean that I’m giving it a pass for trying to have its cake and eat it too. Had those horror elements been integrated into the majority of the film a little more as opposed to just the finale while also being able to deliver the more emotional resonant moments this would have really been something special. As it is, I give it props for the things I like about both, but the mixture of the two is missing a connective tissue to make it all work for me.
Maybe I’m nitpicking or I’m still a little shell-shocked by the terrible quality of Burton’s most recent efforts, but so much of this film stinks of everything I’ve hated about Burton of the past few years. The voice acting is uninspired and incredibly lackluster, there’s too much focus on gothic looking characters and the stop motion animation in and of itself is not entirely spectacular. In almost every way I found this to be vastly inferior to another stop motion film released the same year, PARANORMAN. In all fairness though, the films have different agendas, but FRANKENWEENIE still drops the ball more often than not.
When it comes down to it, FRANKENWEENIE for me is ultimately nothing more than a half complete experience. Half of it is comprised of things I dig about Burton as a filmmaker and others are things I’ve grown to dislike about him along with aspects that just didn’t reach their peak. FRANKENWEENIE is a film that I don’t think intentionally wasted my time, but it also doesn’t necessarily care that it kind of did.