“Young Victor conducts a science experiment to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life, only to face unintended, sometimes monstrous, consequences.”
Directed by: Tim Burton, Rated: PG, 87 minutes
If any of you have been a long-time reader of the site, you know about my hatred for recent Tim Burton films. He’s a director who’s simply run out of ideas and can’t make a movie without one of his two wives, Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter. His films have become loud and messy and the plots behind them are weak, uninspired, and try way too hard to be funny. He’s become obsessed with his dark “humor” and each of his films turns out to be something much more morbid or out of place than genuinely entertaining. With his most recent film, Frankenweenie, a full-length adaptation (remake?) of his very own first short of the same name, Burton tries harder than ever to recapture the magic from his prime. While he doesn’t fail at doing so, it’s still a much weaker film than say, Edward Scissorhands or even Beetlejuice. It’s biggest strength, however, is its references to classic monster movies, which help pave the way for a rather exciting conclusion.
Young Victor Frankenstien is a regular boy who hasn’t quite found his place in the world. His best friend is his dog, Sparky, who stars in all of Victor’s homemade films (that are also inspired by the monster genre). After an unfortunate accident sees Sparky dead in the middle of the road, Victor can’t find motivation to do anything. Wandering in his own thoughts, Victor comes to the conclusion that he can revive his beloved pet, a la Frankenstein, and have him as his faithful companion for the rest of his life. Luckily for Victor, things go according to plan, but once his secret gets out, other students try to revive their own pets and animals, bringing chaos to their little town. None of them are revived as “good” (?) as Sparky, and these newly created monsters terrorize the town in glorious 1950s fashion.
With references to all sorts of films, from The Mummy to even The Birds, Frankenweenie has a lot to reward to the regular movie buff. Unfortunately these treats don’t really see screen time until the last 20 minutes of the film. Sure, these moments are great, but when you have an hour building up to it, that’s both lackluster and unoriginal, you feel a bit disappointed that the movie, in its entirety, couldn’t be as good as its finale. Yes, these last 20 minutes are jam-packed with action, humor, and nods to the past, but by the time you get to it, you’re already disinterested in what’s happening. It’s almost like falling asleep in class, nodding off at the boredom surrounding you, only to be awoken with a few minutes left by a fire drill. It’s a bit of fun after a lot of boredom, leaving you excited for just a moment, before realizing that the entire thing is the same shit we’ve been given time and again.
At the heart of Frankenweenie is a story about a young boy and the love for his dog. Easily a story many of us can relate to, the tale is a lot closer to home than many of Burton’s other works. Unfortunately, the man manages to get a little too ahead of himself (yet again) and focuses on the feel and atmosphere more than the characters and story. By the time the movie finds its feet, the story is nearly finished and you’re only left with a bunch of cool references, not a hefty punch to the emotions you’d expect going into the film. While it’s a step in the right direction for Burton, the question still remains if the step is big enough for him to gain the ground he’s lost with us over recent years. I may be a vocal hater of the man but I do hope that he finds new inspiration and delivers us another “lighter” masterpiece like Big Fish. I’m not optimistic about the fact, but knowing the talent he has hiding somewhere inside of him, I’m still hoping. Kind of.
plenty of references that will satisfy the movie geek in all of us, with homages being payed to iconic films, monsters, and moments
an incredibly boring first and second act that leave you mildy (if that) interested in the characters and the story
seeing a film that so many people praised as Burton’s return to form and knowing that it’s far from that, with plenty of ground the director still has to make up