Tim Burton goes back to his roots (this is a remake of Burton short film from 1984) with this clever and sweet story of a boy whose beloved dog is killed by a car. Inspired by his science teacher, the boy brings the dog back to life, but does so in the midst of a heated science fair competition. His classmates use his same scientific methods, and soon, the town is overrun by monsters brought back to life by the irresponsible kids.
Burton uses stop action animation, the same technique used for Coraline, and Burton’s own Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas. The process is well tailored to the macabre, old-timey haunting and rich in texture, especially in black-and-white, which evokes classic horror films.
I have two minor criticisms. First, there is a subplot where the science teacher is run out of town because of his influence on the children. It’s a little too contemporary and feels a bit like an unfair shot in the culture wars, especially off putting when, in fact, the neanderthal townsfolk who feared the teacher are seemingly vindicated – the kids damn near destroyed the town.
Second, the ending feels forced, as if the test audiences couldn’t bear the downer of a dead pet. So, the dog lives, which is pleasing, but contrary to what I thought was a well-developed theme about love and loss and the limits of science. In that way, I suppose Frankenweenie is hopelessly, sadly modern.