It is important that we learn to forgive our heroes; for every misstep like Dark Shadows or pointless pandering like Alice in Wonderland, there is a redemption like Frankenweenie. This love letter to old horror films is a beautiful piece of animation craft and manages a level of humor and heart that makes even the creepiest ideas seem sweet. I have to admit, though, I wanted something just a smidge darker than we got. As it is, the characters appear to be playing dress-up more than being truly twisted, but that doesn’t make the flick less watchable, just different.
There isn’t much to say about the film itself. It is what it is and you really should see it. The more time you spent watching 40s and 50s horror films, the more you will recognize and love in it. It is a beautiful piece of animation (I know I said that already, but it bears repeating) and the story will resonate with just about everyone out there; most everyone has lost someone or something they wish they could bring back. The black and white cinematography was a bold and perfect choice for the subject and the voice talent is top notch, if aimed just a little too young for my taste to match the overall sensibility.
What was very interesting to me was that this is the second film of the year to take on more typically dark ideas for kids. (I discount the more juvenile Hotel Transylvania as that is really just a kids film, however successful.) Paranorman is going to be facing off with Frankenweenie in a few weeks for the Animated Feature Film Oscar. Both take the point of view of young outsiders in worlds full of possibility and danger and make them the hero. Both are stop-motion animation, making their level of craft hard to separate, though Paranorman’s humor is a bit more sly while Frankenweenie stays sweet to the core. All of Frankenweenie’s humor really aimed at movie references and the occasional site gag while Paranorman tackles broader subjects and even some innuendo providing more for adults to snicker at. In many ways, Paranorman is a better film while Frankenweenie is a bolder stylistic and visual set of choices. It is going to be an interesting battle, but I’d place my bets on Paranorman, if for no other reason than Burton has a statue or two already.
But back to the movie itself. See it. Seriously. It may never be my favorite Burton, but it is definitely a good one. As a nice bonus, the extras on the disc are well-done and fun as well, going in detail behind the scenes to show you how they made it all work.