Tim Burton returns to familiar territory, remaking his 1984 stop motion animated short film Frankenweenie and manages to return to form as the spooky, atmospheric, character-driven filmmaker that impressed audiences in the late 1980s. Darkly comedic and at times tense and frightening, Burton takes the audience on a nostalgic ride through the history of Universal monster movies while presenting an enthralling tale of his own. Coupled with brilliant 3D and dynamic cinematography, Frankenweenie delights by sticking to its genre roots.
Victor Frankenstein is a boy obsessed with classic monsters and science. Himself a budding filmmaker (there’s more than a little projection of Burton in him) the only thing Victor loves more than his hobbies is his dog Sparky. So when his dog dies he takes a cue from his science teacher and tries to reanimate the dead using the magical lightning of New Holland. As you would expect, things don’t go exactly to plan when Victor suddenly has a formerly dead dog under his care.
Taking cues from decades of horror films Burton constructs a delightful little movie. Best, you don’t have to have knowledge of the history of horror to appreciate what he’s done herein. What’s most important, however, is that Burton makes his horror movie legitimately terrifying for a few minutes, choosing to eschew pandering to kids to give them something to remember. These were the things that marked his early projects—Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands—moments of fright in service to the story. Burton is at his best when he has a story to tell and he does a masterful job with Frankenweenie.
The movie does masterful work with 3D, giving the kind of gimmicky effects that you’d expect from a drive-in horror movie from the 1950s but it works because of the material being presented. Things come out from the screen at the audience but it works for the story thus plays well in the multiplex. The cinematography benefits the movie with the camera taking position in places that wouldn’t be physically possible, drawing the audience into this fictional world. The decision to keep the movie in black and white allows for brilliant use of shadows and the dynamic camera prevents stagnation.
A welcomed treat in the Halloween season, Frankenweenie is the best animated movie released this year thus far and deserves your patronage. While it may be too frightening for kids under 8 the flick is a pleasing diversion.
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