So happy to be at Fantastic Fest this year. So far it's been wonderful catching up with long friends and acquaintances and enjoying the hospitality of Tim League, the staff of the Alamo Drafthouse, and Austin in general. But you don't care about that, so...
FRANKENWEENIE is very much a return for Tim Burton. You'll probably read that line a lot in many reviews, considering that DARK SHADOWS wasn't Burton at his best. FRANKENWEENIE is Burton in a safe place - the suburbs of his youth, monster movies, and childhood. Young Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) loves making movies, and feels inspired by substitute science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau). When his beloved dog Sparky dies after being hit by a car, Victor decides to use his science to bring him back. But word gets out of what Victor's done, and other children, eager to do the same to their pets, help unleash dark evil onto the town of New Holland.
FRANKENWEENIE, for much of its first half, is Burton firing on all cylinders - the sequence where Victor brings Sparky back to life is flawless, mostly without dialogue, and directly inspired by the great horror films of yesteryear. It's wonderful. The ending also has Burton throwing every influence that's ever informed his filmmaking, and Burton unleashed is always a pleasure to watch. However there are pacing issues in the midsection that feel like that the filmmakers knew their beginning and their ending but needed a bit more filling in the center.
That's not any kind of dealbreaker. Once havoc gets unleashed on the town, the movie becomes a pleasure to watch as the townsfolk fall into their horror movie archetypes. The animation is top-notch, the black and white giving FRANKENWEENIE a definite old-school feel that Universal Monsters fans will appreciate.
There's also a wonderful monologue by Landau about the love of science and how groupthink can be antiethical to true vision. The fact that he does it in a very Vincent Price-inspired character and with the timbre of a thousand horror films in his voice makes the scene even better. The voice acting is all great, including Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara, and Martin Short.
There are a few thematic issues I had with the ending that I won't spoil here, but Burton and company pull their punches a little bit when it would have been more constructive for the audience to be honest and not so crowd-pleasing. But that doesn't take away from the fact that this is Burton doing what he's always done best, and this, like THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS, will gain Burton a whole new generation of fans. FRANKENWEENIE is a terrific gateway movie to those movies in our youth that made us all a bit movie-crazy.
I'll have more in the coming hours! Thanks for reading!