Tim Burton has achieved a lifelong goal with the release of Frankenweenie. The film is based on a short film he made while still an animator at Walt Disney. It must feel astounding to have the latest in a long line of brilliant Burton films be a full-length, stop-motion animated version of one of his first works. And to have it put out by the Mouse House is all the more special.
Sometimes a passion project does not translate as the helmer may be too involved to see what works and what doesn’t. That is not the case here as Burton has given his fans a long-awaited treat in the form of the story of Victor Frankenstein and his re-animated dog Sparky.
Victor adores his pet Sparky and it is clear that as Burton often does, he is channeling childhood emotions on the silver screen that resonated with his own younger self. He has said that the relationship between a child and a dog is the first true time that an individual feels love for another being beyond the familial.
Losing that bond can also be the first time we deal with death. When Victor sees Sparky dart into traffic, he is devastated by the result. But, inspired by his science teacher (Martin Landau), he digs up Sparky, hooks him up to electrical wires and in a wicked lightning storm, brings him back to life.
Burton has inhabited his Frankenweenie fictional town of New Holland with quite a cast of characters that befit the types of individuals he has been making stories about for decades. Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara do triple duty as Victor’s parents as Short also plays the town’s mayor and the mysterious Nassor. Meanwhile, O’Hara portrays Gym Teacher and Weird Girl, whose cat practically steals the film… or at least gets a majority of the laughs.
Landau dives into his role with his usual panache while The Middle star Atticus Shaffer is beyond amazing as Edgar “E” Gore. Get it… “Igor?”
But it is Charlie Tahan and his portrayal of Victor that not only anchors this film, but takes it beyond a simple love letter from Burton to his past and crafts it into a compelling story where we are pulling for and truly care about our lead. The audience feels every corner in the rainbow of emotions from Tahan and he rises to the occasion of essentially portraying a part that feels an awful lot like the type of kid Burton was while running around the streets of Burbank.
Millions have seen the short film that Burton crafted in the 1980s and when news of the Frankenweenie big screen adventure was first announced, anticipation shot through the roof. The director does not disappoint as our Frankenweenie review can proudly state that it is the filmmaker’s best work in years. His painstaking effort to bring this story to life, much as Victor does Sparky, is evident on every frame.