Movie Review: Frankenweenie

Out of darkness comes lightening, life and monsters

A bit like a dark Santa Claus(aws), Tim Burton arrives every so often, bearing what you hope is the wonderful treat you’ve been waiting all year for. And just like Christmas’s that we’ve all had at some stage, they can be sometimes a bit of a disappointment. A Christmas tradition in my youth was where you could ask Sant-y for a main gift, and a ‘surprise’ gift. Quite often, the surprise gift was the better of the two. The magic of the undiscovered wrapped up in a package a young mind could barely comprehend.

In his latest creative adventure ‘Frankenweenie’ (2012), Tim Burton equally mines the memories of his youth and those more recent (a short version of Frankenweenie was made in 1984), discovering and unveiling unexpected joys of surprise, and bizarrely death, on many levels.

frankenweenie film review
All creatives (and to be honest, anyone really) know the pain of not achieving their goals. But the real talent is expressed in persevering, knowing and accepting you’re not quite there yet. But the vision is still crystal clear in your mind. Maybe the timing isn’t right, the necessary skill base hasn’t been achieved, and the elements are not ready to be born, or as in this case of Frankenweenie, died and had to be electrocuted into life.

Originally stemming from the fact that Burton actually lost a dog years ago (the main character Victor Frankenstein is in many ways a young Burton) and blending it his undoubted love for all things B-Movie, Tim has effectively created a beautiful homage to life, love, death and power of creativity.

As a sketch the movie is about the death of a young boys (Victor, voiced by Charlie Tahan) pet dog (Sparky) and through the use of science (for a school science project), bringing it back to life, and the subsequent consequences. Within that it’s also about isolation, alienation, grief, joy, love, loss, birth and death, basically what it is to be human. As a fully rendered 3D Tim Burton/Disney movie, it is an unmitigated joy to behold.

From the opening first seconds in the credits of the castle logo morphing from Disney joyous saturated colour into trademark Burton black and white, I was sold. Then after the opening scene of Victor and his best friend Sparky showing a home made blockbuster monster movie they had created to Vincent’s parents, I wanted to run out and be a film director.

In regards to mining histories and building on what we’ve achieved before, there’s alot of familiar elements to Frankenweenie, but at the same time, it’s entirely fresh and new. I’d never seen a 3D movie in black and white before. It looks stunning, and at moments, possibly the best use of 3D I’ve ever seen. In the possibility of there being just too much information to absorb and relax into using colour 3D, it’s absence seems to only makes things clearer.

It does help to love old 50s/60s horror movies, it’s not however essential, but you’ll definitely get a lot more out of the visual treats in front of you if you are a fan. Most kids won’t have seen the old Frankenstein movie (to their great loss) to get certain references, Frankenweenie is sort of the remixed dark Tiny Toons version, but there’s plenty of influence from more recent features that they will, such as for the keen eyed, an utterly joyous/macabre nod to Hello Kitty in a graveyard scene.

Frankenweenie movie review

All the characters are stunningly rendered in design, personality and choices for voice, from Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short and the ever outstanding Martin Landau. All supported by beautiful magical sets and yet another aptly lovingly lavish genre soundtrack from the Burton musical stalwart Danny Elfman.

Considering the work has been created with the backing of Disney, there is a delightful level of mischievous darkness in the tone of the film. A utter joy of a moment is when science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (Landau) is trying to address the concerns of the parents of his science pupils, in a totally misjudged speech of what is intended to allay their fears. It doesn’t, at all. And even more topical references to the demonising of science in general which is happening a lot in the USA at the moment. Added into the blend the apparent fortune telling abilities of Mr. Whiskers (Weird Girl’s cat) through the reading of his poo, it’s a wonderfully refreshing Burton world.

Like finding your Christmas presents in your parents wardrobe before the big day, I don’t want to tell you details of the movie. It would ruin the surprise. I (deliberately) knew very little about movie going in. I’d even forgotten it was in 3D, which I’m generally not a huge fan of. But this is Burton at his best. If you are already a fan, you’ll lap up the beautiful deep loving darkness, and if you’re new to the fold, you’ll become a fan, no matter what age you are.

Nine out of 10Rewinding the reel back to the opening scene, where there’s a home movie being made, there will be countless kids who will see this movie, be fantastically inspired, and will grow up to build on the amazing achievements of it all. That really is the spark and birth of life.

Frankenweenie is released in the UK on 17th October by Disney.

Making nightmares into dreams
As a wonderful companion piece to the release of Frankenweenie, there’s also ‘The Art of Frankenweenie Exhibition’ running at the Festival Village, South Bank Centre, London from 17th – 21st October. Like the physical characters used in the making of the movie, it’s small. But equally like the movie itself, it’s magical.

As the movie was filmed in London at Three Mills Studios, the opportunity to see the actual figures and some of the sets is not to be missed. They are exquisite in their detail. It’s almost like miniaturising yourself and stepping into the actual movie itself. Indeed you can actually get a memento picture taken of yourself having a cheeky glance into Mr. Rzykruski’s science class with all the characters in attendance.

There are numerous assistants around the exhibition to give you knowledgeable insights to the actual making of the movie, from Tim’s sketches to initial models, maquettes and on to finished film ready dressed models. The whole room makes the process comprehensible, but also boggles the mind with that magic that is part of the creative process.

As mentioned about, it has a short run, but if you are a fan of Burton’s work, it’s really not to be missed.

For more info visit