Frankenweenie

Fri, Oct 19, 2012, 01:00

Directed by Tim Burton. Voices of Charlie Tahan, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Atticus Shaffer, Robert Capron PG cert, general release, 86 min

It has all his usual hallmarks, but DONALD CLARKEfinds Tim Burton’s reanimation fresh and energetic

TIM BURTON isn’t doing much to distance himself from Tim Burton. After Dark Shadows, a film that played like a parody of his own cosy gothic aesthetic, the middle-aged fright-master has returned with a stop-motion take on an early Burton short concerning a lonely boy who reanimates his recently flattened dog.

Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter are conspicuous by their absence, but, that aside, Frankenweenie could hardly look more like a Burton project. The characters have lollipop heads. The images reference classic horror of the 1930s and 1940s. Interesting children are scared and lonely. Less interesting kids are bullies.

For all that, the picture feels enjoyably fresh and surprisingly energetic. How enviable it is to retain such an unshakable connection to one’s own childhood.

Frankenweenie begins with a faux Super-8 horror movie, apparently created using toys, household debris and the protagonist’s doomed, triangle-headed dog. Lest you miss the galloping allusions, Burton names his alter-ego Victor Frankenstein. When a car strikes the poor mutt, the budding film-maker takes the cadaver to the attic and waits for a thunderstorm.

We are so deep into meta- reference that many kids (and older viewers) may mistake the fastidious recreations of scenes from James Whales 1930s Frankenstein movies – we have an Ygor and a Bride – as references to earlier work by Burton or his legion of acolytes.

Sometimes the nodding is perfunctory: it’s nice to see a film in black and white, but why has Burton done so little with light and shadow? Sometimes the jokes are inspired: the final conflagration takes us into Japanese monster- movie territory. But the quotations never stop.

Happily, Burton does manage to inject real humour and pathos into his characters. What’s touching about Victor is not his strangeness, but his convincing ordinariness. Not every child creates miracles in his bedroom. But quite a few feel excluded by the tyranny of suburban conformity.

It would, however, be a mistake to locate the film firmly in the mainstream. Frankenweenie has, in the US, made considerably less money than Burton’s bastard children: the lacklustre Hotel Transylvania and the excellent ParaNorman. For all his success, Tim is still capable of contacting his (pardon the oxymoron) inner outsider.

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