Frankenweenie is the first Tim Burton film in five years that isn’t outright terrible, but that still doesn’t make it very good. The film’s strengths rest on the wonderful claymation and Burton’s insistence to make the film in black and white. Burton also finally nails a consistent tone for the the film, playing things light, yet flirting with the gothic tone he’s become famous for. While the jokes don’t always hit their mark, for two-thirds of Frankenweenie Burton is getting back to his good storytelling that made him such a household name to begin with.
It’s the film’s third act that almost sinks the good will of the previous two acts. Where the first two acts are Burton getting back to basics, the third is the indulgent Burton we’ve come to know in more recent years. I’m not sure what’s made people not want to tell Tim Burton ‘no,’ but this has all but sunk most of his movies within the last ten years (Big Fish and Sweeney Todd being the few exceptions.) There are some nice nods to the older monster movies of yesteryear, but ultimately it feels unnecessary. It also feels like it belongs in a completely different film instead of a picture that’s supposed to be about a boy who brings his dog back from the dead.
When Frankenweenie does keep the focus on Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) bringing his pup back to life, it feels like classic Burton. Tahan breathes solid life into Victor, perfectly embodying a boy who misses, and wants his dog back. Tahan’s never annoying, he’s heartwarming. Martin Landau is perfect as Mr. Rzykruski, the science teacher. His monotone demeanor echoes all those science teachers one may have had in high school. Special note should be given to Catherine O’Hara in her role as Weird Girl, as she masks her familiar voice in a squeaky, yet cute sound that makes Weird Girl appealing.
Burton’s no stranger to claymation, and his decision to make Frankenweenie in black and white is applauded. Much like his story, Burton gets very indulgent with his characters, but it doesn’t hurt the movie. These are fun character models to look at, and each one has defining characteristics that are pure Burton. The favorites are Weird Girl and Nassor, who bares resemblance to Frankenstein’s Monster.
As with most major releases, the film is shot in 3D, and it works. Claymation has always lent itself perfectly to the format, and Frankenweenie does have some nice scenery and set pieces to admire in the extra dimension. In addition, it was a nice callback to see the black and white in 3D.
Frankenweenie works, which is better than can be said for Burton’s last two efforts. It may feel too repetitive for those familiar with the original short film, and it’s true that the film does almost fall apart in its third act. Frankenweenie entertains, which at the end of the day, is all you can ask from a movie. Next time out, it’d be good to see Burton illustrate care for a film like he does in the first two acts here.