DVD review: Frankenweenie

(PG) ***

Director: Tim Burton.

Cast: (voices of) Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan.

WHEN is a kids film not a kids film?

The answer could be "when Tim Burton directs it".

Frankenweenie, based on Burton's own 1984 short film, certainly appears to be aimed at a younger audience. It gives us a child's-eye view of life, particularly the joys and heartbreak that come with owning a pet, and it portrays its adults as either stupid, ineffective or absent. Add to this straight-forward dialogue and laughs, and a super-smooth stop-animation style, and the film seems to be a family adventure.

But it's also aiming at an older audience, with its typically Burton-esque visuals, an endless stream of classic horror and monster movie references, and a plot about reanimating the dead.

Because of all this, Frankenweenie will prove too dark for the really young viewers and too kidsy for some of the grown-ups. That leaves a niche demographic of teens who are yet to reject the innocence of youth, and childlike grown-ups who adore classic horror films, kids flicks and all things Burton - and those people will love the hell out of it because, well, it's a wonderfully polished, clever and entertaining movie.

The rather familiar story follows Victor Frankenstein, an exceptionally bright student who lives in suburban America and whose hobbies include playing with his dog Sparky and tinkering in his parent's attic.

His life is turned upside-down by the death of his dog, but after an illuminating science class, Victor gets the idea to bring Sparky back from dead, triggering all sorts of trouble for his hometown of New Holland.

Victor Frankenstein and his reanimated dog in Frankenweenie.

Victor Frankenstein and his reanimated dog in Frankenweenie.

There's something delightfully ghoulish about a movie where kids run around digging up their pets and electrocuting them, but that's exactly what makes this warrant its "parental guidance" icon on the DVD cover. A little bit of darkness is a good thing for children's movies, in this childless reviewer's humble opinion, but grown-ups may want to keep this away from their really young, easily spooked offspring.

There's a kick to be had out of Frankweenie's remodelling of Mary Shelley's classic tale, as well as the many references to bygone scary cinema including Godzilla, Village Of The Damned, and The Mummy, among others, and such familiar faces as Boris Karloff, Vincent Price and "Igor". This also gives it the potential to succeed for kids of a certain age who will be able to revisit it as the years go by with a greater understanding on subsequent viewings.

The real audience here is Burton fans, who will love the crisp black and white cinematography, the celebration of the abnormal, and its love of bygone cinema (add an extra star to this review if you're a Burton fan).

For non-Burton aficionados, this may seem like a strange merger of two things that don't quite work together. With its grown-up gothic horror stylings and its child-like viewpoint and delivery, Frankenweenie is, ironically, a Frankenstein's monster of a film.

Because of that, it's weird and wonderful, like much of Burton's filmography.


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