Being overcome by a strong case of post-Halloween fever induced by all the Halloween-themed parties which are still bringing Creatures of the Night to life in Glasgow, on Friday I decided to go for a self-devised “double feature” at the cinema, with Frankenweenie and Hotel Transylvania being my films of choice. I figured that the similarities between the two would probably be exhausted at that they are both animations featuring monsters (or not?). From then on, I thought that since the movies differentiate significantly in the feel they have as well as the way they are visually presented, it would be extremely fascinating to watch them one after the other and try to draw comparisons. Boy, was I right!!!
I started with Frankenweenie – the stop-motion reincarnation of the 1984 Tim Burton short by the same name, which follows the story of young Victor Frankenstein who brings his dog Sparky back to life (oh no, he DIDN’T!). Building on the half-hour film from 28 years ago, Burton and screenwriter John August (Corpse Bride) manage to create a full-length animation, which adds an enjoyable amount of details, new events and intriguing (an euphemism for ‘creepy’) characters to the Frankenweenie story. The movie, which is arguably one of Burton’s finest creations (it was chosen to open the BFI London Film Festival), shows the filmmaker going back to his roots with far-from-monstrous consequences. Much like Sparky’s lovingly sewn together parts, which comprise a strange but adorable creature, Frankenweenie’s dark and mischievous, yet heart-warming and humane elements prove to fit together in a surprisingly complementary manner.
Of course, we have witnessed Burton work his magic in a similar way before. The common building blocks of his universe (e.g. dark imagery, overemphasized eyes, and peculiar characters) are still all there, and so is this specific type of protagonist, who always seems to be a subtle reference to Burton’s own persona. In addition, we can notice the recurring playful wink to old-school horrors as well as an expected appearance from a couple of Burton academy alumni actors (no, not Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, but Winona Ryder and Catherine O’Hara for a change). However, by delivering the story from a child’s perspective this time around, Burton presents a new variable that adds to the marvellously calculated fun that Frankenweenie is. And although the movie might not prove suitable for children (or even grown-ups) with weak stomachs, for all the yucky moments it creates (a girl reading the future according to her kitty’s poo-poo being the least disturbing one of them all), it still manages to leave you with a heart-felt smile and a joyful sensation when the end credits appear.
Then off to film number 2 on the list – Hotel Transylvania. As you can imagine, this animation delivered by the creator of Dexter’s Laboratory and Samurai Jack Genddy Tartakovsky, is much more visually (if not emotionally) colourful and explicit, and equally spectacular (dance numbers and all). Yet, despite the incredible graphics reminiscent of Tartakovsky’s old TV works, the movie fails to propose an engaging storyline. The plot lingers somewhere between the overexploited theme of parental over-protectiveness versus adolescent rebelliousness, and the sensations brought about by first love, without so much as proposing an interesting twist (if we don’t count the fact that they are…well, monsters).
It is not all growls and no fangs though. Similarly to Frankenweenie, Hotel Transylvania is very much ‘alive’ with things constantly on the move, run or edge. However, unlike Burton’s film, Tartakovsky’s feature, although proving transparent with regard to where it is going, might leave you wondering as to what the purpose is. The alleged idea is probably to provide a few good laughs with no excess baggage, but this proves to be the problem – the truly funny jokes are indeed few. That being said, it should be noted that for the limited amount of genuine laughs, the ones you would actually get would surely be hearty ones (a scene referencing Twilight is definitely on the top of my ROFL jokes list). In addition, spectacular voice work (courtesy of Steve Buscemi, Kevin James, Fran Drescher, and to a lesser extent Adam Sandler), facilitates the creation of charismatic, weirdly benevolent monsters, who you would rather cuddle than chase with pitchforks (Monsters Inc. sat an example, eh?). In any case, despite its flaws Hotel Transylvania still offers a pleasurable enough ride with plenty of soul. Plus, it is definitely more children-agreeable than Frankenweenie.
So, Frankenweenie and Hotel Transylvania turned out to be a worthy wrap-up of the Halloween period. Nevertheless, if we were to put them in the opposing corners of a ring, Frankenweenie would certainly come on top. Yet, even Tim Burton’s movie didn’t quite manage to earn the title as the coolest animation of the year, which is still up for grabs. With Wreck-It Ralph and Rise of the Guardians coming up soon though, this is more than likely to change. A successful year for animations then? Can’t even ghost…I mean cast…doubt on it!
3/5 Marvelous points