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Nordling On FRANKENWEENIE! Fantastic Fest 2012!

Nordling here.

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!

Nordling, out.  Follow me on Twitter!

Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 21, 2012, 10:11 a.m. CST

    Looking forward to this!

    by Chris Moody

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 10:12 a.m. CST

    Great review, Nordling!

    by Chris Moody

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 10:16 a.m. CST

    With Nordling, Quint and John Ary, this film is now 3-for-3 on AICN...

    by Chris Moody, we just have to wait for the Kidd to post his review. Will this film go 4-and-4?

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 10:17 a.m. CST

    Of course it's a big return...

    by REMcycle


  • Sept. 21, 2012, 10:18 a.m. CST

    Of course it's a big return...

    by REMcycle

    Honestly...I think he figured all his new stuff was just fodder and decided to jump on the bandwagon and reboot his own student films, since everyone loves them already. Not a bad move. Time for another helping of Burton Kool Aid.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 11:57 a.m. CST

    Call me obtuse, but...

    by BiggusDickus

    I always think of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS as Selick's film, not Burton's. That said, I'm stoked for this and feel old Timbo deserves a hit once more... BEETLEJUICE 2 next please, Maestro!

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 12:21 p.m. CST

    Nightmare is undoubtedly Selick's.

    by sweeneydave

    I love the stylistic concepts that Burton comes up with. He's always been great with that. But it was Selick (and Elfman) that brought that world to life. I recognized that immediately when I saw the lifeless Corpse Bride without Selick and the magical Coraline without Burton.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 12:21 p.m. CST

    And I don't mean to come down on Burton. To be honest,

    by sweeneydave

    I'd love to see another stop motion collaboration between Selick, Burton, and Elfman.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 1:31 p.m. CST

    This is the kind of stuff he should be doing

    by amrisharmpit

    Burton is at his best when he is working on original material, not adaptations of other work. That's when he has the most creative freedom and can let his imagination run wild. Pee-wee, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Nightmare Before Christmas, etc. Frankenweenie seems to be in the spirit of those and sounds like a lot of fun. Because most of Burton's adaptations - especially in recent years - have been mediocre to terrible.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 4:46 p.m. CST

    Re: Again, Selick did NOT direct THE CORPSE BRIDE

    by ArmageddonProductions

    Will Vinton, the dude who did the animation work for the "California Raisins" commercials and "The PJs" did. It's an easy mistake to make, but STOP FUCKING MAKING IT!!!! Also, Selick DID NOT direct this one, either -- the directing credit is actually Burton's, but the animation was done by an outfit called "Mackinnon & Saunders".

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 6:39 p.m. CST

    Sorry, Burton long ago used up any second chances

    by brobdingnag

    he had with me. Plus he is a sacred cow to this site, reviews of his films here simply cannot be trusted.

  • Sept. 21, 2012, 9:18 p.m. CST

    Will Vinton had FUCK-ALL to do with Corpse Bride

    by Nasty In The Pasty

    Burton co-directed it with Mike Johnson.