This Stop-Motion animated feature has so many bewitching things in it, especially in establishing a sense of place, character development & community, that it’s frustrating to see it fall short of its potential. But technically and in story construction, everything feels about two drafts shy of production-ready, rushed along to meet a pre-scheduled release date. It makes for a very muddled middle. Still, it’s never less than passable, gosh darn likeable, and the opening & closing chapters function in a state of near bliss. Norman is the usual outsider kid you find in these things, ghoulish, friendless, and with a propensity for speaking to the dead. And that comes in handy when his Uncle dies, leaving Norman with the secret for keeping the peace between the living townies and the Zombie World hoping to attack. There are plenty of gags for parental units, school bullies and various undead types, and the film hits its peak in the penultimate climax as Norman takes on Zombies on one side and riotous, lynch-happy townfolk on the other. The final climax is both scary & touching, a technical tour-de-force with lots of digital effects blended into the Stop-Motion action. All good. But it also forces Norman to suddenly turn himself into an unlikely top-flight child psychologist. Not so good. Still, kudos to directors Chris Butler & Sam Fell for getting as much right as they do.
DOUBLE BILL: Butler did CORPSE BRIDE/’05 with Tim Burton, so similarities with FRANKENWEENIE/’12 were probably inevitable. Instead, try Suzie Templeton’s outstanding Stop-Motion re-imagining of Prokofiev’s PETER AND THE WOLF/’06. This Peter could be Norman’s Russian cousin though Templeton’s unity of vision quite outstrips all these films.