Not a Movie Snob - Frankenweenie

Posted on Saturday, October 06, 2012 at 06:00 PM

"Welcome back, Jack"


Frankenweenie feels like pure nostalgia. Nostalgia for the earlier efforts of Tim Burton, nostalgia for the early Universal horror classics, and nostalgia for being a kid and having fun getting scared. As far as Tim Burton's career is concerned, Frankenweenie is like a cross between The Nightmare Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands. A riff on the 'perfect' suburbanite lifestyle, where every lawn is mowed and every house is spotless. Every streetlight is always green and everyone knows everyone else. And then crossing that with grotesquely shaped characters getting into trouble with the unknown. It's familiar stuff, if you're familiar with Burton, but a welcome familiarity. A nice return to roots after all those big budget blockbuster adaptations and strange family dramas. Even Burton's last foray into the stop motion field, Corpse Bride, didn't feel as homey as this.

But simple nostalgia and return to form isn't all that Frankenweenie is. Frankenweenie is a love letter. A love letter to the early days of horror cinema. The batch of 1930's and 40's Universal monster movies that have so excited and horrified audiences for almost a hundred years are given due notice here with a better understanding of their unique power than even Paranorman had. And Burton is, forgive the pun, deadly serious about his winks and nods. There's no riffing here. No poking fun or making light, even in the lighter, funnier moments. You can tell that, as Burton assembles the bits and pieces of some of his favourite monster movies into his own Frankenstein creation, he has a deep love for the source material.

Burton is a visual director. He always has been. This is evidenced in the films in his cannon that look wonderful, but have weak plots or story executions, and there have been a few. With Frankenweenie, in line with the monsters in the movies nodded to themselves, Burton has gone a step further in his tribute and made the very unique (to animation cinema) decision to make the entire movie black and white. At a time when many kids and closed minded adults won't even watch a film that isn't in colour, to make a potentially big business family film colourblind is a brave and inspired move. And I love it. I think it adds a level of originality and character to the look of the movie. It adds to the nostalgic feel and five minutes in you don't even think about it anymore because you're too caught up in the story.

Stop motion has always been the coolest, at times most organic, at others most fantastical and even creepy looking animation choice around. It's also, I imagine, the most monotonous, pain staking form to take from step one to the finish line. But from the 1933 version of King Kong, to Wallace & Gromit, to Nightmare Before Christmas, to Coraline and this year's Paranorman, it is the funnest, best looking form of the medium that exists.

In 1988, Burton made a live action short film of Frankenweenie to play ahead of Disney's theatrical rerelease of Pinocchio. Upon completion, Disney determined that Frankenweenie was too dark and intense for family viewing and shelved it until it received a stand alone VHS release years later. Ironic considering Pinocchio has some of the most scandalous, R-rating deserving scenes I've ever seen in a family film. Anyway, Burton's decision decades later to do a full length version of the story in stop motion was inspired and I couldn't imagine the film in any other form.

Going into the theatre with my four and two year old, the ticket ripper mentioned to me that the movie might be too intense for kids their age. I said I'd give it a shot and see how they did, internally rolling my eyes at the man. Three quarters of the way into the flick I began to see what he was talking about. This movie has some intensity and genuinely goosebumping moments. My four year old was fine (he loves scary stuff) but my two year old spent the last chunk of the film with one eye on the screen and the other buried into my chest. Sure the thought crossed my mind to leave and I asked my two year old if he wanted to, but he declined. And why not? After all, part of the fun of being a kid is being scared by things you know don't exist, but creep into your mind when the lights are out. I know it, my two year old knows it, and Burton does. He knew it growing up watching Frankenstein and Dracula and The Mummy and Wolfman. And he knew it when he made Frankenweenie, the best tribute to the golden age of monster cinema since, well, since then.

Rating: ****½



NOTE: The showtimes listed on come directly from the theatres' announced schedules, which are distributed to us on a weekly basis. All showtimes are subject to change without notice or recourse to