Tim Burton's own short Frankenweenie certainly had potential so a remake sounded good but risky. After all, Burton is being criticized these days for doing the same type of thing over and over and his work gets it in the neck for lacking originality altogether so an adaptation of his own short was always going to provoke critics.
Not this time, though.
Dark Shadows was enjoyable enough but there really wasn't that much to it, Alice In Wonderland did really well at the box-office but the feedback wasn't exactly positive. Well, it's Disney time again and, believe it or not, they finally got it right! And the irony is they got it right with a film based on a short they rejected back in the day for being too dark. If anything, this slick new stop-motion Frankenweenie is darker and infinitely more twisted than its low-budget little brother. Burton has assembled a vintage Burton cast this time with the likes of Martin Short (Mars Attacks!), Catherine O'Hara (Beetlejuice), Martin Landau (Ed Wood) and even Winona Ryder (Edward Scissorhands) all reporting for duty.
No Johnny Depp, no Helena Bonham Carter this time, surprisingly.
Cool, when's Michael Keaton coming back?
Frankenweenie is a nice surprise, not just because it's genuinely good but also because it's the best animated feature Burton has made himself, The Nightmare Before Christmas being technically the work of Henry Selick and Corpse Bride being inferior to both, and it's his most heartfelt, personal film since Big Fish. Actually, I would say since Edward Scissorhands because as close to home as Big Fish hit, its visual style was just not as strikingly Burtonesque as it is in Frankenweenie. This macabre story of a boy and his dog looks amazing but not so slick that it forgets to have a heart and a sharp sense of humour (both of which haven't quite been on-the-ball since Planet Of The Apes).
It's the most inventive, powerful and funniest Burton's films have been in years.
I mean, it's a simple little film but by expanding it into what it is now, Burton has managed to make Sparky's unfortunate predicament and his bond with owner Victor into something genuinely touching. You barely had time to get to know either in the original. Also, by adding or tweaking a few characters we now have tons of monster movie fun with Victor's schoolmates trying their hand at their own gruesome experiments which don't turn out so well, of course.
You've got Weird Girl (aka Staring Girl), creepy-looking owner of adorable scene-stealing precog cat Mr Whiskers, a mini Boris Karloff, a mini Peter Lorre-style Igor (or: Edgar E. Gore) kid, a goofy fat kid and an evil Japanese kid all of which learn of Victor's unique death-defying technique and promptly try to create their own monsters. This leads to an awesome An American Werewolf In London-style transformation scene, a giant turtle monster named Shelley (geddit?) and a cute mummified hamster to name a few. Here's an animated flick that's sweet and twisted enough to appeal to just about anyone. Plus there are enough subtle references to old horror classics from The Mummy to The Invisible Man to make sure older film buffs have a ball too.
If I had to nitpick I'd say that Victor and his parents could have looked a little more lively and unique, the monsters could have posed more of a real threat to the status quo and Ryder's Elsa Van Helsing could have been given a bit more to do but overall, it all still works perfectly fine.
Burtonites and non-fans alike should enjoy Frankenweenie: it's a stylish, entertaining, funny, occasionally heartbreaking outing for the director which should confirm that there's still great stuff to come from the mad movie scientist.