Let’s face it. 2012 really hasn’t been the greatest year for animated films. In that, I mean there hasn’t been an animated film that gets people excited about the Oscars. Usually, that job falls to Pixar, but Brave was only a decent film; when it comes to Pixar, we expect masterpieces. There have been well-received animated films this year as well, but can we name one film that sticks out as the best? While it isn’t a shoo-in, Frankenweenie is one of the better animated films this year, and if all goes well, it just might earn Tim Burton the Oscar that he has deserved for way too long.
The story, expanded from Burton’s 1984 short of the same name, is relatively simple. 10-year-old Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) is a genius when it comes to things like science and amateur moviemaking, but he’s hardly the most popular kid in his town. His best friend is his dog Sparky, who gets killed when he runs after a baseball and gets hit by a car. Hurt and depressed by his loss, Victor has a light bulb go off when he sees his science teacher (a deliciously demented Martin Landau) put electricity through a dead frog, causing its legs to move. Inspired by this, Victor digs up his dead dog, puts a lightning bolt through him, and Bam! Sparky is alive once more! Of course, things spiral out of control, but it all works out.
The best animated films have always been the ones that either reach us emotionally or give valuable lessons to its target audience: just look at Pixar for proof. With Frankenweenie, there are some points made about life and death, science and its layers, and what to do about the love for someone, or something, you care about. This film should create worthy discussion about these topics, especially with kids who don’t quite understand what it all means to them. It’s hard to lose a pet; imagine what it likes to bring it back to life.
But enough about spiritual pondering. Frankenweenie is another fun effort from Burton. What gets you immediately are the visuals. This is a world we’re all familiar with when it comes to Tim Burton: characters who are all grotesque in one way or another, whether it’s their tea saucer eyeballs, stick-width arms, or their disfigured, out-of-proportion bodies. But it’s more magnetic than anything, and Frankenweenie should be a contender for Best Cinematography this year. For a stop-motion animated film, its black-and-white filming is unbelievably vivid and detailed. It’s by far one of the best-looking films this year, but great visuals have always been one of Burton’s strong suits.
It’s also good fun, especially when they emphasize the competitiveness of Victor’s fellow classmates to win an upcoming science fair. (Hmm, another good discussion topic.) They range from the inherently weird girl and the almost-too-perfect stereotypical Japanese whiz-kid, to kids who look an awful lot like Igor and Frankenstein’s monster. Things really kick into high gear in the third act because of their wildly misguided attempts to recreate Victor’s experiment, resulting in sea monkeys becoming sea gremlins, a turtle getting turned into Godzilla, and havoc being wreaked across the town!
Frankenweenie isn’t for every taste, neither is it Tim Burton’s best film (it doesn’t have the same pull as The Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride, and even those animated wonders have masterworks like Sweeney Todd to contend with). But it’s one of the stronger animated films so far this year, and it’s a scrumptious treat for the Halloween season. It puts our faith back into Burton and his weird, yet wonderful creations. Now to see if it can bring life back into the Oscars.