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DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
VOICES: Catherine o Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Atticus Shaffer, Winona Ryder, Charlie Tahan
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
Tim Burton is an artist first and foremost. Just to look at the artistic vision and execution of Frankenweenie tells it all. It’s quite exquisite and he takes what he wants to its logical conclusion by choosing to go in black and white rather than colour which would have made much more sense in the popularity stakes.
But not Burton. And he’s right. It would have been sacrilege not to do it that way and yet, at the conclusion of watching the film, you are left puzzling about its core audience. Who did Burton envision giggling delightedly, or wiping away a tear?
It starts that way because you are simply mesmerised by the extraordinary people appearing on screen. It’s as if he’s captured the longing, the melancholy, the sadness people manage to hide most of the time. Here it becomes part of the fabric as the story unfolds quite magically.
From beginning to end, every face and moment seems to echo a horror movie from the past and many who are au fait with that genre will jump in glee as they recognise all the possibilities.
From Frankenstein (of course) to Vincent Price, faces are recognisable and the story has a familiar ring, hence the name. You also recognises the face, for example, of a Johnny Depp as he was seen in Edward Scissorhands, and many others might pop into your head if horror is your particular hook.
Burton, in fact, has been working on this story since the 1980s before all the technology was available to pull it off the way he wanted to.
But then, as we get into the story, things start dragging a tad. There’s only so much a look can do before you need to be grabbed by the story and pulled into the heartache or happiness of the characters. Whimsy and wacky can’t stand alone, it needs drive and determination to take audiences on a journey. There is one, but the substance is flimsy and the look, as exquisite as it is, once it has been absorbed, doesn’t go anywhere either.
Paging through Burton’s awesome The Melancholy Death of the Oyster Boy and Other Stories and having witnessed interviews and discussions on his New York Moma exhibition a while back, it appears that he is better at capturing a mood with words and drawings in a book than getting the electricity going on screen.
The audience he’s aiming for is also a bit awkward. It’s not really child-appropriate and anyone older might be lost because of the paucity of the story. It’s sad though, because Frankenweenie feels like Burton territory and as the creator, a smart fit.
I have to underline that horror (not even horror nostalgia) is not my natural bent, even if Burton is. But there are other times, too, when he hasn’t had my vote and yet, anyone could lose themselves in his hauntingly beautiful sketches. But you need more.
This one is for the horror afficionados who will be entertained by trying to match the references.
If you liked The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride and Triplets of Belleville you might like this.