The idea behind Barton’s new film, the black-and-white 3D animated film Frankenweenie, was conceived in the early 1980s and was translated into celluloid in 1984 as a short feature film with Barrett Oliver and Shelley Duvall. It’s basically an old story about a friendship between a man and a dog that deepens by adding elements of the myth of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster (coined by Mary Shelley), and that story helped Barton establish himself in the world of film thirty years ago, but it’s the same that’s exactly what made him fired from Disney – because of the dark atmosphere he breathed too much. Today, he returns to it, more experienced, richer and immersed in a solitary gloom covered with humor with the intention of fulfilling that dream, and the same company is a distributor. Times are obviously changing, as are people.
Well, in both versions, a young man named Victor Frankenstein is not experiencing the loss of his beloved dog Sparky very well, so led by the knowledge from the chemistry class on how the nerves of dead organisms still react to electricity, he decides to do something similar on his pet and return it to alive. Of course, he succeeds in that and that is the backbone of the film, but – do the people around him think it’s okay, when they find out that the kid was playing God. How long will Victor’s newfound happiness last? How will that affect some of his peers, who want to shine at the upcoming school science fair?
We notice the first differences in the character and habits of our dog resuscitator – although in the original he is just an ordinary boy who loves his Sparky and behaves socially acceptable, the new Frankenwini portrays Victor as a misunderstood alien who finds the only true friend in his dog. So, the main character is bartonized, in fact, do-bartonized (you can quote me, if you want). The updated version also brought several new characters, including Viktor’s neighbor and love interest, Elsa van Helsing. The film is full of allusions, references and parodies – both visual and dialogue-related. For example, one deceased turtle is sympathetically named Shelley – which is at the same time a greeting to the eponymous animal of that species, a character from Sesame Street, but even more so to Mary Shelley, the author of the novel Frankenstein.
Some children from the main character’s class were also introduced, and each of them has a special, very important place in the expanded work, but almost none of them have the depth of personality.
In my opinion, the greatest advantages of Barton’s new work lie in its visual-auditory aspects. The sound effects, then the music (another successful collaboration with Danny Elfman + this – sweet thing) and voice acting – I would single out Martin Landau as an Eastern European professor, modeled after Vincent Price – are almost perfect. The animation is great, as always when it comes to this director. Visually, Frankenweenie is most reminiscent of Corpse Bride, although the story and atmosphere are much different. Also interesting are allusions, details-homage to horror masterpieces (The Bride of Frankenstein, Dracula, Japanese Godzilla series, even Gremlins – to name just a few) which the film is full of – some are fun, some pointless, some are there to artificially push the minutes.
In an edition that lasts a little less than 30 minutes, of course, this is not the case; it is a naked idea, a filmed dream of every child who has lost a pet. However, I can’t say that the earlier work is better: it also contains serious flaws, such as, for example, the fire in the end caused in the dumbest way possible.
If we consider the general impression, the modified version has, even more than the original, all the features of a classic Bartonese. We have a lonely young man, his gothic sympathy, a dark environment, grotesque supporting characters, slices of horror dipped in comedy. Moreover, if we know the work of Tim Barton, we will come to the evil thought that the whole thing was done that way, with animation, just because it would be a bit creepy for Johnny Depp to play a person three banks younger than himself and Helena Bonham Carter, Barton’s real-life wife, wears kike, lives in the house next to deep and secretly cooks it. I, for example, love Big Fish mostly because it deviates somewhat from what could be expected from a Barton film, and I believe I’m not the only one because, as much as his charm is likable, love for him wears off over time – I wanted that or not.
While it represents a step forward in his career in recent years, Frankenweenie can’t stand side by side with some of Tim Barton’s earlier work, but that doesn’t mean he’s automatic and bad. It’s an attempt to return to the game, a film that will probably be liked by introverted teenagers and some other target groups, which gives us a few fun moments, a couple of smiles and a couple or two that we will remember or retell, but, on the other hand, stay after a feeling of emptiness, vagueness, perhaps disappointment in his stomach, as if he was missing something big, something that decapitated him and deprived him of the possible status of a new animated classic.