With Frankenweenie and Paranorman, we may be seeing a resurgence in family films that are meant to be a bit scary, rather than the anaemically nice kid’s movies we’ve had for the last few years. While Tim Burton’s animated movie is never too intense for youngsters, it’s gently creepy and touches on some tough themes, such as learning to come to terms with death.
Victor Frankenstein is a young lad who’s devastated when his beloved pet dog, Sparky, is run over by a car and killed. Unable to accept his pooch’s untimely demise, Victor comes up with an incredible plan to use electricity to bring the animal back to life. Miraculously it works, although Victor realises he must keep the revived Sparky a secret.
Inevitably though, word begins to get out, with others wondering if they too can bring back much-missed pets. Inevitably things spiral of control, and as news of Sparky resurrection spreads, Victor must try to prove that his dog is still the same animal inside, despite his sewn together appearance and bolts in his neck, and the town being torn about by ravenous zombie animals.
The stop-motion film is based on Burton’s 1984 short, and indeed parts of it are almost verbatim remakes of that fun toon. The movie has plenty of fun with its resurrection ideas, ensuring there’s lots of humour, some exciting action and a tone that’s sweet and occasionally melancholic.
However it does slightly suffer from the curse that befalls many movies that are adapted from shorts, which is that when you expand something from 30 minutes to 90, you have to find some new plot to fill the time, and quite often it ends up feeling like padding. There is a sense that much of the middle of the movie is slightly tacked on to the core story, but it never stops being fun to watch even if it does slightly lose focus.
What really pulls it through is its visuals and heart. It’s gorgeous to look at, full of Burton’s trademart style and the stop-motion expertise of the team at London’s Three Mills Studio (where the likes of Fantastic Mr. Fox were also made). Coupled with a story that never loses sight of the emotional connection between a boy and his dog, as well as the difficulty of accepting that animals don’t live forever, it’s sweet, sometimes moving and yet never loses site of the dark, oddball tone that people loved in the original short.
As long as your kids aren’t too sensitive – and they’d have to be really sensitive to be genuinely bothered by this – it’s a movie they’ll probably enjoy a lot. Adults should find it a lot of fun too. Indeed those who’ve spent the last few years moaning that Tim Burton isn’t Time Burton anymore, will be pleased that he can still bring out the oddball mix of darkness and optimism when he wants to.
Overall Verdict: A great mix of the sweet and emotional with the dark and lightly creepy, to create an entertaining and visually gorgeous stop-motion treat. It may get a bit random in the middle, but it’s still a very entertaining flick.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac