Tim Burton has returned to stop-motion with Frankweenie. A remake of one of his own short films, Frankweenie follows the story of Victor Frankenstein, a high school student who has a deep affection for his dog, Sparky. When a car accident kills Sparky, Victor turns to his own means and those given to him by his science teacher, Mr. Ryzkruski, to bring Sparky back from the dead. Thus begins the story of a dog coming back from the dead, and the trouble it spawns.
Frankenweenie is the first black and white stop-motion film to be showcased in IMAX 3D. This combination of old techniques and new technology creates a nice balance in a family film accessible to all ages. IMAX 3D is a privilege usually reserved for the star-heavy, crowd-pleasing action flicks, but it’s thoroughly warranted in the case of Frankweenie.
Burton manages to create moments of genuine comedy and tenderness wrapped up in what may become the most successful black and white stop-motion film of all time. (Note the self-reference in the opening scene, in which Victor shows his parents his homemade 3D stop-motion movie.) Despite its unusual visuals, it never strays too far from being a human story. This is thanks in large part to the cast, which includes the stellar voices of Winona Ryder, Charlie Tahan, and Martin Short.
The moments of suspense and thrill are supplemented by the effective score of Danny Elfman, who has scored most of Burton’s films. Elfman’s music adds to the warm atmosphere of the film, which is reinforced by John August’s script. The film explores different aspects of Victor’s hometown New Holland—including a windmill, a “Dutch Day”, an intrusive mayor, and a competitive science fair—but never loses sight of the core of the film. As Elsa (Ryder) sings her song “Praise Be New Holland” at the science fair before the climactic insanity ensues, we also see a kind of social commentary on suburban life, safe and shielded as it is from strange events. Burton turns that on its head and gives us more than either we or the film’s characters anticipated.
Despite the otherworldly events of its plot, Frankweenie has mellow moments that contrast nicely with the mayhem and allow the audience to enjoy the whole spectacle and not just its key plot points. Everyone will have a different favourite moment in Frankweenie, which is why it will likely be a success in the end.
This is a return to form for Burton after two less than stellar remakes (Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows). You could even argue it is his best film since 2005’s Corpse Bride, which was also stop-motion. Burton’s vast experience in both 3D filmmaking and stop-motion animation ensures the film’s lasting appeal. This isn’t a case of an old dog learning new tricks, but of a veteran doing what he does best.