This has been a golden year for stop-motion. First we had Aardman’s excellent The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! and more recently Laika’s fantastic ParaNorman. Now it’s time for act three and the latest effort from a cinema legend. Frankenweenie began life as a live-action short film Tim Burton made in his twenties whilst working as an animator for Disney. The story was too macabre for the company and his efforts lost him his job. One iconic career later and how things have changed as Burton and Disney reteam to remake his original story in stop-motion.
At its heart Frankenweenie is another variation on the Frankenstein story but shrunk down to child size and shot through with an ample dosing of heart and warmth. Young Victor Frankenstein is a budding scientist who spends all of his time with his beloved dog Sparky until. That is, Sparky gets run over and goes to doggie heaven. When Victor’s imposing but inspirational new science teacher conducts an experiment with a dead frog and an electric charge Victor decides to make good use of his home town’s frequent thunderstorms in an effort to resurrect his canine chum. And it works.
Frankenweenie was always going to draw close comparisons with ParaNorman and I’m quite certain that audiences will be divided over which is the better film. Frankenweenie’s undoubted charms will occupy a more classical place in people’s affections compared to the more contemporary and challenging ParaNorman and offers a superbly paced and satisfyingly rounded story with a great balance between horror and comedy. The emotional resonance will hit anyone who has ever loved a pet and the translation of Mary Shelley’s novel into a story about a boy and his science project works beautifully. The typically Burtonian style of animation, character design and visual aesthetics is delivered with efficient brilliance and the decision to present the film in black and white absolutely pays off, carrying with it a powerful old-school charm.
But it doesn’t match the sublime ParaNorman. For all its success it’s a pretty formulaic film that aims for and hits a lot of children’s story trope checkpoints and although the final act bonanza is sustained and exciting it doesn’t hold a candle to the extraordinary climax of Laika’s effort. But such comparisons between films that are clearly aiming for different results are somewhat misleading. Frankenweenie might not be this year’s best animated feature but it is a quite wonderful film all the same.
With a cast of characters consisting of a pleasing mix of weirdos and a clear affection for classic horror cinema Frankenweenie arrives as Tim Burton’s best film for some time, a picture that hits all the right notes and stands as one of the best animated films of the year.