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In the mid 1980’s, before Tim Burton’s big breakout with his first film Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, he directed a short film by the same title of Frankenweenie that starred Shelley Duvall, a young Sofia Coppola and some blasts from the past such as Jason Hervey from The Wonder Years. For whatever reason Burton decided to remake and expand his original story as a full length stop-motion animated film, and it’s quite wonderful. And let’s be honest, it’s a welcome return for Mr. Burton. Granted, it’s by digging up the past and could possibly be seen as a desperate attempt to channel the brilliance that was his work in years past, but it doesn’t matter when it’s such a success as this, and really it’s refreshing to see Tim Burton making a “Tim Burton film” again. Sorry, but Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and even Sweeney Todd – and they all have their charms don’t get me wrong – simply are not shining examples of this man and what a great filmmaker he is. However, Frankenweenie is. As I mentioned in my review for ParaNorman last month, animation is for whatever reason not my bag, but here Burton soaks this film up in so much atmosphere that I completely gave in. I can forgive films for lacking in plot and substance if the atmosphere is strong enough that it pulls me right into their world. Just like in real life there is beauty all around us at all times on even the most empty and boring days of our lives. If a film can succeed in bringing me into their world that I’ve never been to, then I’m happy, and there’s plenty here to pull you in, especially at Halloween time which this couldn’t have done a better job of conveying. How this was originally going to be released in March of this year is beyond me. Burton has always been the king of seeing gothic as pure pop culture, bringing it out of the shadows and into the mainstream, and with all the gorgeous and glowing black and white, the misty autumn lighting, his ‘”grotesque is beautiful” way of seeing things (at least that’s how I interpret it), he creates what truly is a dazzling and luminously dark neon dreamscape that you can’t take your eyes off of. I don’t remember a lot of the original short film in terms of the setting, but here it felt like a 50’s gothic Leave It To Beaver, almost like the Bob Balaban 1988 film Parents (a fantastic dark comedy I also highly recommend), but without the colorful cannibalism. There are even hints of Back To The Future at times not only with the 50’s timelessness, but also from with the perfectly manicured lawns of suburbia, to the school friends of main character Victor, to the goggled mad scientist experimentation of Doc Brown. Of course this movie is inspired heavily by the original story of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’. After young Victor Frankenstein loses his dog Sparky in a car accident, his life and innocence is turned on it’s head. But not his determination, and soon enough he successfully executes a plan to reanimate his dog back to “life”. All is well again, or so it seems, until things spiral out of control and soon his classmates are bringing things to life that were never living to begin with, and a dark veil of havoc is pulled over their hometown of New Holland. It’s also quite fun to see, or really HEAR Tim Burton working with some names from the past. Not only are the always fantastic Catherine O’Hara, and Winona Ryder (co-stars in Burton’s second feature Beetlejuice) back with him for the first time in over two decades, it came across to me that Ryder’s character Elsa van Helsing (Vincent’s love interest and next door neighbor) was basically a cartoon version of her Beetlejuice character Lydia Deetz, from the voice, to her age, and right down to her dark dreary look. In addition Martin Landau, who played Bela Lugosi in Burton’s 1994 film Ed Wood, is clearly channeling a mix of Lugosi and Vincent Price as Vincent’s science teacher Mr. Rzykruski. Ahhhh, it all adds up to a glorious reunion of the early world of Tim Burton in so many ways. This is a beautifully lush film, and it’s visuals outweigh a few typical plot points that pulled me out of the experience for a few minutes at the end. It’s a welcome return for Burton, showcasing his truly visionary level of creativity when he isn’t being so “lazy” with his renditions of stories that have already been told before. ENOUGH, TIMOTHY! When he starts fresh, his movies feel as such in the end, and hopefully this will keep him headed in that direction again. Of course I would still welcome a proper follow up to Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, so who am I fooling? This is a fun and gorgeous stunner of a film, and is not only a great film for this autumn, but in autumns ahead. I give this one eighty pieces of fresh cat crap. Yes, that’s a high compliment. Just see it.


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