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FRANKENWEENIE (2012)


At the same time as he was directing Dark Shadows, Burton was also remaking his own short film, Frankenweenie, as a feature length stop motion movie. Despite misgivings from some that Burton was so berift of ideas he was remaking his own movies now, it would turn out to be his most Burtonesque films since Corpse Bride and his most emotionally satisfying since Big Fish. It would also go places the original film wouldn't (or couldn't) go.

The fact that it's in black and white and the first of his films in nine years not to star Johnny Depp gives it a breath of fresh air. The original short film is cleverly expanded to feature length by giving the audience more buildup of Victor Frankenstein's relationship with his dog, Sparky before the accident (any animal lover will get teary-eyed at several points in the film) and more interaction with Victor and his classmates (no Sofia Coppola this time).
It all builds to an insanely fun climax where every kid in town copies Victor's science experiment and releases their own monster on suburbia. There are lots of references to classic monster movies and even more recent ones like Gremlins (the sea monkeys) and Jurassic Park. Horror fans will also enjoy the Christopher Lee Dracula cameo.
The film is fast-paced with beautifully shot stop motion animation. It's great to hear the voices of familiar Burton actors like Martin Short and Winona Ryder in key roles. Martin Landau is especially good as an overly dramatic science teacher (". . . your children's heads, I can take them and crack them open. This is what I try to do, to get at their brains!").
There's even some discussion on how science is viewed by narrow-minded people. If there's any disappointment, it's that several key characters (especially Victor's Japanese rival) are nothing more than caricatures. But the central relationship works and the extra length gives the film more of an emotional kick than the live action version.

The film earned great reviews, but unfortunately, despite Disney's best marketing efforts, audiences rejected it in favour of Adam Sandler as an animated Dracula. However, I believe it will go on to be remembered as one of Burton's best. Like his greatest films, it's an intensely personal work, and almost like looking through a window into Burton's 1960's suburvan childhood. Frankenweenie was also nominated for Best Animated Feature at the Oscars. The film definitely brought some disillusioned fans back into the fold. And the 3D looked real pretty in black and white.

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