After the critical beating Tim Burton took for his most recent films, the unfairly maligned Dark Shadows and Alice in Wonderland, I was beginning to wonder what it would take for him to resonate with critics and audiences once again. The box office was there for Alice (not so much for Dark Shadows), but it’s hard to find people who actually liked either film. His audience was losing interest, and I genuinely feared that his glory days were behind him. Enter Frankenweenie, a black and white stop-motion animated remake of a live action short he made at the beginning of his career. This isn’t the sort of material that I would expect to catch on, but the beautiful animation in conjunction with a genuinely moving story has led to pop culture resonance and an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film.
At this point, it’s redundant to talk about what a personal film this is for Burton. In telling the fantastical story of a child who brings his deceased dog back to life, he tells a hauntingly down-to-Earth story about a child at odds with the world. Victor Frankenstein (not very subtle) is the sort of kid who would rather make home movies than play baseball with his friends. I’m sure this story element is very familiar to Burton. Victor may live in a generic culdesac in the middle of suburbia, but he is anything but ordinary. A creative sort, when he learns about the art of reanimation from his beloved professor, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau), he takes it upon himself to revive his beloved dog Sparky.
Sparky’s resurrection could have gone many ways, but Burton tells this story with a very light touch. The tragedy of Sparky’s death is expectedly moving, and the reunion equally heartwarming. Eventually, word gets out and all the kids in town start reanimating their pets, to comedicly disastrous results. I’m telling you, rampaging sea monkeys are just funny.
As with all Burton films, this is a quirky movie through and through. Every character in town has a distinct personality, almost all in reference to some classic horror film. Burton’s love for the genre is obvious, and the film feels like a giant homage to these stories and his childhood. When all is said and done, this film ends up giving us variations on mummies, werewolves, vampire bats, even Godzilla. Rather than unleashing these creations on a population of “normal people”, Burton has done something unusal in making the citizens of this town unusual in and of themselves.
Bonus Clip: “Captain Sparky Vs The Flying Saucers”
As expected, the design work of these characters is immaculate. From the hilariously hunchbacked Edgar Gore to the wide eyed eccentricity of the aptly named “Weird Girl,” every resident in the town is memorably unique. The animation to bring these characters to life is amongst the best use of stop-motion animation that I have ever seen. The fluidity of motion is unparalled in the industry and will be seen as a benchmark for this style of animation.
This process is meticulously documented in the terrific feature included on the Blu-Ray, “Miniatures in Motion.” This is a thoroughly realized tour of the entire production, showcasing the immense amount of work that goes into each and every frame of the film. The feature goes from department to department, showcasing the talents of each unit and their contributions to the whole. There are hundreds of artistis involved in the creation of a film such as this and it’s fascinating to see the process broken down in such a way.
Bonus Clip: “Starts with the Drawing”
Other features include the music video “Pet Semetary” by Plain White Ts, a look at the touring Frankenweenie exhibit, a (very) short film called “Captain Spark vs. The Flying Saucers” which is a highly entertaining look at Victor’s filmmaking process, and best of all, the original short film that started it all. Running about 30 minutes, I was amazed at how much of this remake was lifted directly from the short. Burton describes the reason for the remake as to give Sparky a personality, and that makes sense given the fact that the original Sparky was basically a prop.
At this point, I don’t know if Burton is going to win the Oscar or not, but I’m just thrilled the film is nominated. Disney has released a fantastic box set containg the Blu-Ray, a DVD, a Digital Copy and a 3D Blu-Ray, providing plenty of viewing options in order to see the film prior to Awards Night. I haven’t seen every film in the category, but I would be very surprised if any of the other films are this strong. I’ll be rooting for Burton, and once you’ve seen the film, you will too.