Tim Burton is guy who, for most people my age, made films that defined our childhood. I have so many memories of wearing out my VHS tapes of Batman, Batman Returns, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. To say that the dude used to make some really really good films is somewhat of an understatement. They were weird, quirky, odd, and just fun. Not to mention that for a kid like me, growing up being so in love with Halloween and anything macabre (or however macabre you can actually get for a 6 or 7 year old), his dark and morbidly humorous films were the perfect fit. Then, something happened. I’m not sure exactly why, but somewhere around Mars Attacks, Tim Burton just started making terrible movies. I’ve asked myself before if maybe it was just an effect from growing older, but I don’t think it is. Tim Burton just got lazy and uninspired. Think about every film he’s released since the mid-90’s. Except for Big Fish, they’ve all been bland, poorly executed remakes of already existing properties. Sure you can throw that typical Burton gothic flare on it, but that doesn’t exactly make it good.
So in a sense, as soon as I heard that Tim Burton would be remaking his original short-film Frankenweenie, about a kid who zaps his dead dog back to life, ala Frankenstein, my ears perked up a bit. Could it be that he would finally make a return to form? Well, dudes, pretty much. This was the film that I’d been hoping he would make for years. Sure it’s a remake, but it’s an expanded remake of his own work. So that kind of counts? The point is, is that Frankenweenie was really pretty good. It brought back that signature touch of demented 50’s suburbia that Tim Burton is so fond of, as well as dozens of throwbacks to old campy horror films. He even seemed to make a point to subtly reference his own classic films. Seemingly Burton is going full circle here, huh?
If we’re on the subject of Burton-esque throwbacks, I can’t help but to mention how much I enjoyed NOT having the usual Burton collaborators, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter featured in this film. Instead, we’re treated to Martin Landau (Ed Wood), Winona Ryder (Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands) and Catherine O’Hara (Beetlejuice). It felt great to here these three familiar voices associated with two of the best classic Burton films, back on screen together.
I guess I should do a quick rundown of the story, here, as I’ve just been gushing about my fondness of old Burton and hatred of new Burton films. Much like the original short film, there’s a kid named Victor (Charlie Tahan) who’s best friend, his dog named Sparky, is hit by a car. His science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau) inadvertantly gives him the idea to use electricity to bring Sparky back to life. Henceforth in a scene paying massive amounts of Homage to Frankenstein, Victor lifts Sparky into the sky during a lightning storm, and then, well the rest is history.
There’s also a Science Fair going on in school, so once all of Victor’s friends find out what he has done, they too try to cash in on Victor’s success. What happened in this sequence was definitely my favorite sequence in the entire film. You’re given this huge barrage of horror creature mashups and homages, such as a giant turtle as a stand-in for Godzilla, a mummy hamster, a bat/cat hybrid, and oversized Sea Monkeys that felt like a major reference to Gremlins, that just mashes all of these campy horror homages into a one fun cute battle.
Frankenweenie isn’t exactly a perfect film, by any means, and doesn’t even quite top the older Tim Burton classics, but it is surely the best work he’s done since probably Ed Wood, and most definitely a step in the right direction. It was extremely cute, although it played a little more towards kids than I would have hoped. But that’s probably just me being greedy, hoping for another more mature tongue-in-cheek Burton film, ala Beetlejuice. But it IS a success, and was a fun little stop-motion/black and white flick, which I greatly appreciated. I can only hope that Tim Burton decides to continue to go back into original film making, rather than slip back into formulaic rehashes. If he does, well, at least we got one final original piece of Burton to throw in our collections.
I give Frankenweenie 3.5 Sea Monkeys out of 5
By Richard Pepper