Frankenweenie | Movie review
Tim Burton reanimates an early triumph.
“I don’t want him to turn out weird,” Mr. Frankenstein says to Mrs. Frankenstein about their son, Victor, a movie-obsessed lad whose only friend is his loyal pooch. One could imagine Tim Burton’s own parents having a similar conversation. Their boy did turn out weird—so much so that his first major gig behind the camera, a 30-minute, 1984 Frankenstein spoof about a kid who zaps life back into his dead bull terrier, got him shit-canned from Disney. Proving that time and big sacks of money heal all wounds, the Mouse House has bankrolled a feature-length remake, swapping live action for stop-motion animation but keeping the monochromatic color scheme. If only a return to roots marked a return to form for Burton. His newfangled Frankenweenie is a lumbering reanimated corpse—a monster weighed down by too many sewn-on plot appendages.
As with all the filmmaker’s fantasias, there are visual pleasures: The character models seem torn from the pages of an Edward Gorey collection, and certain sequences—like the tour de force laboratory set piece—would make James Whale proud. Yet even at a slim 87 minutes, the movie struggles to fill out its running time. Whereas the original had a purity of premise, twisting Mary Shelley’s famous story into a tale of adolescent grief management, this padded-out retread gets bogged down with lectures about the ethics of science and a supporting cast of nattering, scheming classmates. Maybe Burton didn’t turn out weird enough; seeing him normalize his first mad-science project is enough to get a former fan reaching for his torch and pitchfork.