“Frankenweenie” is a typical visit to Mr. Burton’s neighborhood, and that’s both a strength and a weakness. Burton conceived the idea way back in 1984 when he made it originally as a short film. But 28 years later he finally gives it the big screen full length treatment he thought it always deserved. It’s a simple story of a boy and his dog with a frankenstein twist, full of his typical weirdos and oddballs and a rich appreciation for the history of horror movies. But Tim Burton’s style has become a tad familiar these days, and what once felt fresh now feels like the same old same old.
Victor Frankenstein is a young elementary school student in the town of new Holland. He’s a budding filmmaker and obsessed with science and his only friend is his dog named sparky. When Sparky is killed in a tragic accident, Victor devises a plan to bring his best friend back to life. But you can’t keep a sewn together re-animated creation like this a secret for long, and word spreads quickly among his classmates spreads as the school science fair approaches.
While Frankenweenie can’t muster the emotional pull of “Edward Scissorhands” or the gonzo energy of “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure,” the texture of Tim Burton’s craft remains remarkable. Using stop motion animation and puppets and filmed entirely in black and white and in 3-D, Frankenweenie offers plenty for an eagle eyed movie buff to keep his eye on. The boy creates a laboratory in his attic which recalls Frankenstein’s lab- only made out of common household appliances. His classmates at school resemble other classic horror characters, and there’s even a nod to Godzilla thrown in for good measure. And the science teacher who inspires his electrifying plan is a dead ringer for horror icon Vincent Price.
I admired the devotion and technique that went into creating Frankenweenie, but it never captured my imagination the way the best childhood stories do, and the way Burton once did. Burton’s dark spooky tableau needs a new twist and a jolt of electricity to bring it back to life. But that’s unlikely to happen as long as Burton keeps retreating into the past.