“Frankenweenie” should have been great. It had a wonderful voice cast, great source material to draw from and a creative director whose style should have been able to bring everything together into a possible film-of-the-year contender. Unfortunately, by the time the credits roll, it becomes apparent that what should have been did not make it to the screen.
That is not to say “Frankenweenie” is a bad film. Quite the opposite, in fact: it is creative, with good performances and a fun story. The problem lies in Tim Burton’s attempt to adapt his live-action short film of the same name into a feature-length film. The original 30-minute-long “Frankenweenie” is a tight film with some wonderful writing, acting and memorable visuals. The basic premise of the short would have to be fleshed out in order to meet the longer run time, but the problem is that Burton did not take it far enough.
“Frankenweenie” is a relatively short film, at only 80 minutes, and it left me wanting so much more. The first 15 minutes are an absolute train wreck in regards to pacing, quickly introducing characters and not allowing the audience to develop much of a connection to any of the supporting cast members. If Burton could have shown a little restraint, pulled back and developed the first act of the film into something more substantial, not only would the runtime not appear so paltry, but it would have made the film a lot more enjoyable.
None of that means this is a terrible film. What “Frankenweenie” does right, it does very right. Fans of the classic Universal and Hammer horror films will love the little references (especially a cameo appearance from Christopher Lee as Dracula, taken from Hammer Film’s “Horror of Dracula”). The visuals, inspired by Burton’s animated love letter to Vincent Price entitled “Vincent”, stand out against most animated films of today. The stop motion animation is smooth and creepy, but very fun and likeable.
With inspiration from horror films from the 1930s to the late 1950s, one has to wonder how much horror there actually is in the movie. Frankenweenie himself—despite his appearance— is very loveable. There is a fine line to walk when dealing with family horror movies, but Burton walks the line beautifully, providing a great mix of laughs, scares and even tears over the sadder moments, as one little girl in my theater can attest.
One question on many moviegoers’ minds is: how does the movie compare to the similarly themed “ParaNorman”? In all honesty, there is very little comparison, minus the fact that both are horror-inspired, family-friendly, stop motion animated films. While “Frankenweenie” was greatly inspired by Universal and Hammer, “ParaNorman” was more inspired by the works of George A. Romero, Wes Craven and the other directors who brought zombies and slasher villains to the mainstream. That notwithstanding, “ParaNorman” is the better film, if only due to better character establishment and pacing.
It should be reiterated: none of that is to say “Frankenweenie” is a bad film. Perhaps the hype, love of the movie’s inspiration and hope that Tim Burton could return to a form that has been lacking since 2001’s “Big Fish” made the movie seem like a bigger deal than it should have been. Regardless, anyone who is a fan of Tim Burton, horror movies or stop motion animation should see this movie.