Saturday 29 March 2014

Cinema Review - Frankenweenie

Tim Burton must have a very bittersweet taste from the release of his latest stop-motion animation, Frankenweenie, as it was his short of the same name that originally got him fired from Disney when it was deemed too frightening for children back in 1984. He has long since buried the hatchet and returned to his rightful home at Disney where his career began as a fledgling animator, and his fascination with all things dark and macabre has led to an impressive and varied filmography, as well as gaining him legions of devoted fans.

His latest offering is a step up from his recent underwhelming efforts, Dark Shadows and Alice in Wonderland, and is return to form for a director well known for his exceptional work in stop-motion animation. Loosely re-worked from his original live action short and extended into a full length feature, Frankenweenie is a monochrome stop-motion animation horror for kids, which on paper may sound over-ambitious, but given Burton's warped ideas and his incredible attention to detail, children and adults alike are bound to succumb to the twisted charm of Frankenweenie. 

In a role that may well be reminiscent of Burton's own childhood, Charlie Tahan voices Victor Frankenstein, an outsider who spends his spare time making monster films on a super 8 camera with his dog Sparky often taking centre stage as creature that destroys miniature cities. Encouraged to take part in sports by his father, Victor's dreams come crashing down when Sparky is critically injured during a baseball game and his school science project may be the only way he can restore life to his beloved dog. When Victor's classmates discover the truth behind Sparky's return it is not long before the whole town is caught up in a disaster of monstrous proportions.

Burton's choice to present the film in black and white lends Frankenweenie an eerie atmosphere that combines well with the retro design of locations such as a traditional funfair and Victor's creepy attic. The inevitable graveyard scene involves an inspired nod to a certain kitty product and it is this balance of light humour with black comedy that makes Frankenweenie such a joy to watch.

A number of  actors bring life to characters who are clearly inspired by classic horror films, including Burton regulars such as Winona Ryder and Martin Landau, whose exceptional voice work leaves little to be desired as Victor's kooky neighbour Elsa Van Helsing and his booming teacher Mr Rzykruski respectively. Danny Elfman contributes a suitably haunting score which adds a grandiose scale to the proceedings whilst never overpowering the dialogue.

Whilst Frankenweenie cannot compete with Burton's earlier classics it is still a brilliantly realised film that lovingly references films such as Frankenstein and Gojira and it is a delight to see his original story fleshed out into a more substantial screenplay. Horror fans are bound to enjoy the homages and those who miss the references are still likely to be entranced by the captivating visuals and Victor's adorably entertaining dog Sparky. For once the use of 3D enhances the film and Frankenweenie is sure to enchant both children and the big kids amongst us now that Burton has rejuvenated one of his very first creations.

Bottom Line - Perfect for family viewing during the build up to Halloween, Frankenweenie will satisfy Burton's devoted fans and is likely to impress any curious newcomers - 7/10

Positives - Burton is back on top form, and the 3D is perfectly suited to the jaw-dropping animation

Negatives - Frankenweenie may be a bit too scary for very young children - there were a few tears at my screening!

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