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Released 17 October 2012
Director Tim Burton

Winona Ryder, Martin Short, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan, Atticus Shaffer
Writer(s) John August
Producer(s) Tim Burton, Allison Abbate
Origin United States
Running Time 87 minutes
Genre Animation, comedy, horror
Rating PG

Burton bites back.

Given that Disney have advertised this film as being, "from the director of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland" fans and non-fans of Tim Burton alike may well have assumed that this is yet another example of a good director who has lost his way. But just when you thought good Tim Burton films were an extinct breed, along comes Frankenweenie.

Part of the reason for its success is the fact that it is a dream project Burton has had in mind since the 1980s, when he first pitched the idea for Frankenweenie – the story of a young boy who brings his dog back to life using the power of science – as a feature length stop motion animation shot in black in white. What Disney granted him instead was permission to do a live action short. Now more than twenty years later Burton has returned with the film he wanted to make, and, surprisingly, it feels much more like something from the twisted imagination which brought us Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice than any of Burton’s more recent Disney collaborations.

Unfortunately the film is not free from Disney’s meddling hand either. While it is definitely one of the oddest things Disney has ever put its name too, there intervention is still obvious. The black and white cinematography looks amazing, but it almost completely negates the decision to release the film in 3D. Stripped of their colour pallet, almost none of the shots jump out of the screen in any noticeable way. The 3D conversion only serves to blur the film around the edges, and actually takes away from the deft attention to detail it takes to make a stop motion film.

It is also unfortunate that Burton’s return to form had to come so close to the release of a very similar but ultimately superior film: ParaNorman. Both are made in stop motion, both feature a young, misunderstood hero who must overcome his social insecurity to save his small town from disaster, both pay homage to horror and monster movies of the 1930s and 1950s. Unfortunately ParaNorman does each of these things better, and while Frankenweenie is certainly enjoyable, it has far less depth of storytelling than ParaNorman. In terms of animation both are incredibly well done, but the awkward mix of 3D and black and white on display in Frankenweenie means that ParaNorman actually looks a lot better too.

Nevertheless Frankenweenie has a lot going for it. Burton collaborator Danny Elfman has contributed a suitably spooky score, but (thankfully) Johnny Depp is nowhere in sight. As the film draws towards its over the top conclusion it becomes clear that Burton is having a huge amount of fun playing with genre expectations. The difference with Frankenweenie is that it is a lot of fun for the audience too.

- Bernard O’Rourke