DIRECTOR Tim Burton WRITER John August; Leonard Ripps (1984 screenplay); Tim Burton (original idea) STARS Winona Ryder; Catherine O’Hara; Martin Short CINEMA 10 October
Tim Burton’s stop-motion, black-and-white take on the classic Frankenstein has been eagerly anticipated all year. Following the disappointing Dark Shadows, however, it was reasonable to ponder if this could be pulled off. Thankfully, he comes up trumps; Frankenweenie is utterly charming.
Victor is an only child, fascinated by science and invention. He’s not a misfit as such, nevertheless his only friend is his beloved bull terrier, Sparky. When Victor obliges his father and takes part in a baseball game, his beloved dog takes after the ball and is run over and killed. Inspired by school science lessons, the heartbroken Victor experiments and brings Sparky back to life. He manages to conceal his patched and bolted dog for a month—marked by full moon—before the secret is out and all hell breaks loose…
Of course, this is a PG film and therefore it is lightweight. There is no monster here; this Frankenstein is a 10-year-old boy who reanimates purely for love. Saying that, there is some classic horror trope to be found here: a misunderstood, innocent character vilified due to narrow-minded village mentality; a torch-bearing witch hunt; and a supernatural element from spooky characters predicting downfall (even if it does involve a cat simply defecating people’s initials). And parents will have fun spotting the references in the detail, such as Sparky’s love interest gaining Bride of Frankenstein stripes in her fur after he electrocutes her, a Nosferatu silhouette on the stairs and even a spearing à la The Omen. The most fun of all these is of course the tribute to Vincent Price, Victor’s science teacher bearing an uncanny resemblance to the actor, whose last role was in Burton’s Edward Scissorhands.
But what makes Frankenweenie so charming is its stop-motion; it would be considerably less appealing if CGI. The puppetry is simply superb; there is movement in the characters’ physicality as a whole, whilst Sparky’s motions really do feel characteristic of his breed. Let’s not forget texture; here is some excellent attention to detail from puppet-makers Mackinnon and Saunders. Were it not for this, there would be little point in 3D, yet here it is a pleasure to get closer to these lovingly-made puppets. Some moments will be a tad too frightening for very young children, a fluffy cat transformation to shrivelled, winged monster in particular is not shirked on, but Frankenweenie cannot be highly recommended enough for a family-friendly Halloween film.