After unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky in a car accident towards the beginning of the narrative, spindly suburban loner Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) succeeds in harnessing the power of science (well, lightning) to bring his canine friend back from the grave. Naturally, our young protagonist strives to hide his home-sewn companion from the prying eyes of his ghoulish classmates (including the Igor-esque Edgar), but when Sparky escapes, Victor’s fellow students, teachers and the easily-spooked town populace all take offence to this seemingly monstrous abomination.
Whilst Burton is clearly keen to reference a number of iconic horror movie classics (Universal’s 1930s-made Frankenstein, Dracula and the original Gamera cycle to name but three), almost as prevalent are nods to the director’s own slightly patchy oeuvre. Whilst this can work when executed sparingly, at points Frankenweenie feels more like a love letter to Burton’s own cinema than a fresh, wholly original piece. The hackneyed, though undeniably sweet-natured plot also does the film few favours, effectively removing the threat and finality of death from the whole equation, leaving children with a somewhat warped didactic.
Some of Burton’s finest filmmaking moments have undeniably come from his work in stop-motion animation, but there seems to have been little (if any) stylistic progression from previous cult outings – namely 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas (which he co-wrote and produced) and Corpse Bride (2005). The same patchwork portrayal of the recently deceased charms on a first viewing, but Burton seems to be quickly gaining a (mostly unfavourable) reputation as a innovator-turned-recycler.
One-off multiplex viewers may well walk away charmed, but for those who have followed this reputed ‘auteur’ during the course of his career, the lack of creativity and imagination on display recently has been more than a little worrying. As a festival opener, Frankenweenie should go some way to help boost the revamped LFF’s image in Europe (despite already having flopped at the US box office). As a film, however, we could have perhaps expected something a little more forward-thinking.