Written by John August
Directed by Tim Burton
Voices by Charlie Tahan, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Winona Ryder and Martin Landau
Mr. Rzykriski: Even after death, the wiring remains.
Almost 30 years ago, Tim Burton was fired from Walt Disney for supposedly wasting the company’s resources on non-family friendly fare like his 1984 short film, FRANKENWEENIE. The definition of what constitutes a family film has changed significantly since then, thanks in great part ironically to Burton game changers like ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and subsequently Burton’s career has come around full circle with his latest creation. By going back to his roots and re-imagining his live-action short film as a stop-motion animation feature, Burton has made his best film since 2003’s BIG FISH. I might even call FRANKENWEENIE Burton’s best work since his seminal classic, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.
Considering FRANKENWEENIE is the story of a dog named Sparky, who is more or less brought back to life after being tragically hit by a car one day, the film itself is surprisingly charming and jovial. And John August’s feature length adaptation is shockingly bursting with life, considering the whole thing is about the undead and learning how to accept loss. This is the trick that makes FRANKENWEENIE such a treat; that it never shies away from the creepy and the ghoulish, but it does so with such a light, unimposing tone that it strikes this perfect balance between dark and delightful at all times. Burton is clearly enjoying himself and not taking himself, or the expectations of who he has become as a filmmaker, seriously at all, an extraordinary feat when you consider how painstaking it must have been to work with all that clay for all that time.
FRANKENWEENIE, a stunning black and white film experience, is chock full of colorful characters, but it is the guy at the center of it all that holds this crazy adventure together. Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) is misunderstood, spends all of his time in the attic and has just lost his best and only friend. It is a lonely place to be and one that is quintessential to the Burton film experience. Burton’s own personal understanding of feeling like the odd man out has always informed his work as a filmmaker, but he hasn’t been that man himself in quite some time. As much as he deserves the fanfare for being such an imaginative director, it is refreshing to see that he does still understand what it feels like to be all alone in this crazy world.