Listeners to the SGUK podcast will know that Dark Shadows did not get the warmest reaction on this site. Could Burton get his groove back by returning to his roots by remaking one of his early shorts? Victor Frankenstein (Tahan) is a young boy who heartbroken when a car strikes down his best friend, his dog Sparky. But with a little inspiration from his new science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Landau), Victor lives up to his namesake by bringing his dog back from the dead, but this leads too much bigger problems.
There art of stop motion animation is incredibly charming. There’s something about it that just feels fresher than other modern modes of animation, perhaps it’s the fact that it is so hand made. Frankenweenie’s animation is simply stunning, unlike so many other stop motion films that leave questioning the techniques of the animation, here you are never too distracted by it but at the same time completely in awe of it. Being an homage to classic horror films (there nods to The Mummy, Gremlins, Godzilla and of course, Frankenstein), it has been shot in black and white (similar to the original short), it’s an interesting departure for the usually colourful world of animation, but it suits this film (and the dreary town of New Holland) to a tee. The character designs are typically Burton, but his style is very appealing and their long, pale and sometimes dead-looking faces suits the macabre tone of the film wonderfully.
Burton seems to be right back at the top of his game with this story of friendship between a boy and his dog (this belongs up there with 2004’s wonderful animation Teacher’s Pet as one of the great “dog and boy” movies). It’s nice to see Burton return to his routes, with his love for outsider characters, his distaste for suburban living, and his passion to tell a story that most others couldn’t dream of ever telling. The main thing that works here is the character relationships. I believe that Victor’s parents care for him (something I found hard to believe in the recent ParaNorman), I believe that Victor would do anything for Sparky, I believe that Mr. Rzykruski would encourage his students to make sure there is less ignorance in the world. I believe this because it is clear that both Burton and screenwriter John August have their hearts invested firmly in this project (the heart that has been missing from Burton’s past few projects).
The voice work here is also top notch, young Charlie Tahan delivers a strong performance as Victor, whilst Short and O’Hara are on top form playing 3 different characters each, bringing life to all of them and (especially in Short’s case) making each of them indistinguishable. Landau offers a nice non-Vincent Price impression for a character who looks a lot like Vincent Price and Winona Ryder delves down deep and brings back the attitude she had as Lydia Deetz from Beetelejuice to play the solemn next door neighbour, Elsa. The only weak link in the cast seems to be young Atticus Shaffer as Edgar, who seems far more interested in doing an Igor impression than an actual performance.
Bringing a career back from the seemingly dead can’t be an easy task, but Burton seems to have done it here with one of his stronger films. It’s not perfect, Burton’s obsession with cramming Christopher Lee into everything is getting very annoying and there are morality questions that aren’t quite satisfied by the films ending but still there is enough charm, with, ingenuity and love in this film to discount that. As a dog owner, I may be bias but there is something very heartwarming about the love shared between a boy and his dog, it’s a type of love that a lot of films don’t seem to get right but this one nails it. At the moment, this is clear winner for next year Best Animated Feature Oscar. Also stick around through the credits for a lovely Karen O song that will be stuck in your head for days.