I wanted to use this poster for my review of Frankenweenie because I think this, more than the official poster, is in keeping with the tone of the movie. Tim Burton really captures the feel of the classic monster movies he loved growing up, far more effectively than he has in any of his movies, at least since Ed Wood. This is his best work in years, a truly entertaining, oddly sweet yet demented movie that is really fun to watch.
Frankenweenie began as a strange little short film Burton made back when he was first working for Disney as an animator, and ended up buried until the early Nineties, when he became a hot director. At the time they didn’t understand what he was trying to accomplish and found it too strange to do anything with. Now, almost thirty years later, they’ve let Tim Burton run loose with a full length, 3D, black and white love letter to the B-movies that inspired Burton to become a film maker in the first place.
First of all, the black and white really works well here. It doesn’t feel like a gag, instead it works beautifully with the 3D to enhance the shadowy areas and emphasize the depth of the sets and models. And those models are appropriately strange, having plenty of character even before they’re brought to life by a fantastic voice cast that includes Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, and Winona Ryder.
The characters sketched here are clearly inspired both in appearance and temperament by B-movie legends, none more so than the children’s substitute science teacher, Mr Rzykruski. I intend no disresptect to MartinLandau, who voices Mr. R brilliantly, but, seeing this character made me miss Vincent Price, who clearly inspired him. Mr. R was also my favorite character, and had he been a science teacher of mine growing up, I can guarantee I would have ended up a Physicist. Would that all teachers had the capacity to bring science to life like Mr. Rzykruski.
Stop motion has really grown to more than just the lark it was when Burton made The Nightmare Before Christmas. This year alone this is the third stop motion movie, following The Pirates!And Paranorman. Now that computer animation is becoming a showcase for A-list stars, much the way traditional animation was when Pixar began making movies with TV stars and character actors, stop-motion is becoming the place for sharp, unconventional storytelling.
Because make no mistake, Frankenweenie is as strange a story now as it was when he made the original short back in ’84. The movie doesn’t shy away from trying to be scary at times, (at one tense point my son was reaching for more popcorn and stopped, holding perfectly still as a character slowly reached out to a doorknob), and there’s plenty of gross-out humor here. But it also has a tenderness about it. Victor’s parents are caring, supportive parents. His teacher clearly loves teaching children. And Victor and Sparky have a genuine affection for each other. Beneath the patchwork of ghoulish ideas and B-movie inspiration, there is a loving, beating heart that makes this one of the most entertaining movies of the year.