Famously Tim Burton left Disney because his stories were too dark.
Skip forward to 2012. We have a Disney presentation by Tim Burton, where a much loved childhood pet is killed by a car, buried, later disinterred and then subsequently re-animated in a child’s pastiche of Frankenstein.
Leaving irony trembling at the cemetery gates, we have a children’s tale that is beautifully animated in black and white stop motion. A method which by now, everyone knows is perhaps the most time consuming, laborious and downright hardest way to make a movie.
The characters are exaggerated in a style similar to “Coraline” and Burton makes the most of his character actors. Martin Landau as the voice of disgraced scientist Mr Rzykruski, who inspires Viktor to take extreme measures when events go south.
Burton clearly undertaking another labour of love, has brought to life a story that maybe did not need telling. However, the film is clearly made with much care and passion, perhaps representing a childhood idea that just refused to die.
Victor Frankenstein (Tahan – Voice) is a lad who perhaps does not fit in that well, he has no friends apart from a vague and not always welcome acquaintance with Edgar E Gore (Shaffer). He does have his pet dog “Sparky” and his film making which reassures his parents, Mr & Mrs Frankenstein (Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara – voices) that maybe he is okay and happy in his own way.
Viktor does interact a little with his neighbour Elsa Van Hesling (Ryder) and her pet poodle which adds some emotional depth, especially between the pets before the trouble begins.
All is well in a slightly, “I am in the attic conducting weird experiments and making movies by myself” sort of way. Not in anyway related presumably, to the director’s own life experiences. However when “Sparky” is involved in a pet dog/car interface, the film takes a darker tone.
The film does not shy away from the loss this creates. However instead of accepting the reality and engaging in the five steps of grief, Victor inserts re-animation straight in at number two. We are treated to a mini-me version of the creation of Frankenstein but with a much loved family pet, accepting the bolts and coarse sewing work instead.
There are some scenes to treasure, Viktor in his attic attired with goggles and lightning all around is worth the admission alone. There is a perception that like “Dark Shadows”, this was a film that Burton wanted to make, irrespective of any discernible target audience. Box office suggests that re-animating the dead is not the draw it once was.
The film is relatively short and mostly enjoyable, although may be too scary for some youngsters. Some older viewers might bridle at the ending, something Burton perhaps fought over and lost.
Fun, albeit dark children’s modern fable. Made with love and attention to detail, striving for but arguably missing out on capturing the true essence of the story.
Not as good as “Coraline” but in the somewhat limited market of stop motion re-animated children’s horror movies, far better than average in every way.