Review by Maria A. Cortes
What comes to mind when you hear about a new movie by Tim Burton? It must be something dark, and twisted, and with Johnny Depp in it. Without the latter, but – undoubtedly dark and twisted – again, as many other Burton’s movies, Frankenweenie was released to the judgment of the youngest Somerville residents last Friday at the Somerville Theatre.
Victor (Charlie Tahan) is a young boy, who lives with his parents in a quiet neighborhood of New Holland. He is profoundly interested in science and spends all the time alone experimenting and making short movies. His only friend is his beloved dog, Sparky. Trying to help Victor to find some friends, his father (Martin Short) suggests that Victor plays baseball with his classmates. The very first game ends up tragically: Sparky is struck by a car. Victor is heart-broken. Using his scientific knowledge, he attempts to bring Sparky back to life and…succeeds! But, would Victor’s life be the same when the neighbors find out that Sparky is brought back from the dead?
Tim Burton isn’t afraid of a challenge. Two years of scrupulous work with over two hundred puppets used resulted in a black-and-white horror comedy that is also the first stop-motion film made in 3-D. Sounds impressive. The question is: Was it worth it? On the one hand, the puppets are truly incredible! Wide-eyed, strangely disproportional, and fragile, they are Burton’s reply to a modern age computer animation. Sparky, Victor’s beloved pet, would make everyone fall in love with him at the first waggle of his tail. On the other hand, it feels that we really are spoiled by Pixar’s grand masterpieces. Burton’s black-and-white film seems boring, in slow motion, odd, and the puppets are simply creepy.
Neither vivid editing, nor Victor’s tender attachment to Sparky (that would definitely cause some tears by the end), can revitalize Frankenweenie. It would appear that Burton, who always paid a substantial attention to the visual part of creating a movie, over-focused himself on it in his latest works. Just as in DarkShadows earlier this year, the no-intrigue story in Frankenweenie drags itself so slowly that the audience can easily take several big yawns in between of the notable moments.
Kids were happy to chew on their popcorn, were laughing at the moments when adults would not, and got very emotional “when the doggy died” at the premiere showing. But, as the credits rolled, the boy at the last row whispered to his mom in an expected-a bit-more tone: “It was OK.” If you are a parent, take your kid to see Frankenweenie and make it a nice start of a Halloween season. If you are a Burton’s fan you’ll like it anyway. But, if you appreciate a good story, look somewhere else.
Frankenweenie: directed by Tim Burton. With the voices of: Charlie Tahan, Catherine O’Hara, Wynona Rider, Martin Short, and Christopher Lee. Rated PG. Shows at the Somerville Theater (55 Davis Sq, Somerville, MA 02144). For information about tickets, please visit somervilletheatreonline.com.