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By Daniel Lammin
24th October 2012

Back in 1984, Tim Burton was a talented young animator at Disney studios, working on a number of big projects. Seeking an outlet for his own artistic endeavours, he made his now-legendary animated short film 'Frankenweenie'. Disney were so confused by Burton’s dark sense of humour that they let him go from the company, not sure that his aesthetic fitted their family-friendly philosophy. Cut to 2012: Burton is one of the most successful directors working in the industry today. After their joint financial success with 'Alice in Wonderland' (2010), Disney are keen to continue working with Burton. Their next project together? A full-length stop-motion adaptation of that pesky short 'Frankenweenie' - pretty ironic for a film about bringing a loved one back from the dead.

Victor (Charlie Tahan) is a budding young scientist living in the suburban community of New Holland. He is quiet, reserved and introverted, with no real friends to speak of, except his beloved dog Sparky. When his pet is killed in a car accident, Victor decides to use his science savvy to bring his best friend back to life, driven by his overwhelming love for his pet. However, with the school science fair coming up, Victor’s classmates try to find the secret to Victor’s successful experiment - a secret that could put both Victor and the newly-resurrected Sparky in danger.


After years of lacklustre films, 'Frankenweenie' sees Burton making a return to form. With screenwriter John August, they have expanded the short into a gorgeous little film with a thrilling cast of unusual but relatable characters. The world of New Holland sits comfortably next to the early 50’s-style suburbia's of 'Beetlejuice' (1988) and 'Edward Scissorhands' (1990), so that the world seems familiar and comfortable, and rife for visual references to riff on. This is clearly the world of this artist’s childhood, and a world he knows very well. The film is also a beautifully crafted homage to the classic monster and horror movies of the 1940s and 50s, all the way down to the gorgeous black-and-white photography. While many references will likely go over many heads, film buffs will have a blast spotting every little detail, from character names and personas, to camera angles and editing tricks. The stop-motion is the best we’ve seen yet from Burton, and it is a relief that, with all the technology at their disposal, the creative team remain true to the artistry of the form with their work, especially impressive in 3D, a medium stop-motion has always thrived in.

Even with the beautiful visuals and charming story, the film soars with its characters. Every single one is vital and hilarious, brought to life by a talented voice cast led by Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short and Winona Ryder. The adult residents are the typical mix of well-meaning parents and grumpy, ignorant monsters. Victor’s classmates are absolute triumphs, all modelled on the classic horror villains and monsters. Watch out for Weird Girl and her psychic cat Mr Whiskers, who almost steal the film with every scene. And holding it together is the innocent and idealistic loner Victor, consumed by the love of his aborable and loyal companion. Charlie Tahan is the perfect voice for Victor, with a delicacy and intimacy so at odds with his bizarre fellow cast, but so necessary. Sparky is a wonderful creation; the dog everyone wishes they had, even when bits of him are falling off - and this is important, otherwise we would never be able to understand the lengths Victor will go through to keep him alive. Rounding it all out is science teacher Mr Rzykruski, brought to life with Vincent Price-like relish by Martin Landau. These are all the typical Tim Burton creations, many new incarnations of characters from previous work, but never have they felt so complete or relatable. Compared to 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' (1993), this is a much smaller film, and perhaps this has allowed Burton to really refine and craft the story and characters, giving it a sense of cohesiveness that early classic has always lacked.

Even with the beautiful visuals and charming story, the film soars with its characters.

In a funny way, the greatest achievement of 'Frankenweenie' is that, with this little film, Burton is almost taking the piss out of himself. He completely understands his aesthetic, and has probably been listening to all the criticism the past few years that he had become a mockery of himself. Here we see him unafraid to laugh at himself and refuse to take himself too seriously. This is a charming, beautiful, moving and absolutely hysterical film, easily his best in years. This is old-school Burton, without the crazy costumes and giddying special effects, a Burton relaxed and at ease with himself as a storyteller. It’s a long-awaited reminder that he is still one of the most exciting imaginations working in film today.

RELEASE DATE: 25/10/2012
RUN TIME: 1h 27m
CAST: Winona Ryder - Elsa Van Helsing
Martin Short - Mr Walsh
Catherine O'Hara - Susan Frankenstien
Martin Landau - Mr Rzykruski
DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
WRITERS: Tim Burton
Leonard Ripps
John August
PRODUCERS: Allison Abbate
Tim Burton
SCORE: Danny Elfman
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