Frankenweenie, Tim Burton, 87 mins (PG)
Ginger and Rosa, Sally Potter, 89 mins (12A)
Quirky Burton gives one old dog a new trick ... shame the plot isn't so well stitched
When Tim Burton was an eager young trainee at Disney, he made a short film about a boy who brings his pet dog back from the dead – a film which, so the legend goes, resulted in Burton being frogmarched to the HR department to collect his P45. It's poetic justice, then, that he should have been rehired by Disney, 28 years on, to direct a full-length version of that contentious short, Frankenweenie. What's more, he's done it entirely his own way. Much like Corpse Bride, but not much like a standard Disney cartoon, Frankenweenie is a black-and-white, 3D, stop-motion animation, whose characters have the trademark Burton physiognomy: dinner-plate faces, Petri-dish eyes, and pipe-cleaner limbs.
One of these characters is surely a self-portrait: a friendless, suburban boy who makes cine-films in his attic. When his dog is flattened by a car, he's inspired by his science teacher (a Vincent Price lookalike voiced by Martin Landau) to ensure that sleeping dogs don't lie. Burton bolts on plenty of horror-movie in-jokes, but Frankenweenie isn't the ghoulish comedy you might expect, so much as a sweet, gentle yarn with an air of pathos to go with the Twin Peaks weirdness. It's all very endearing, for a while. It's only later that the scrappy, directionless story shows it up to be exactly what it is: a charming short film that's had some ill-fitting bits stitched on. It's typical of Burton not to pay too much attention to plotting, as anyone who's seen Dark Shadows can tell you, but you'd have hoped, after 28 years of planning, that the screenplay wouldn't seem as if had been thrown together in an afternoon.
Another film drawn from its director's own childhood, Sally Potter's Ginger and Rosa is a coming-of-age drama set in London in 1962. Its two heroines, played by Elle Fanning and Alice Englert, are teenage friends. They've been inseparable since they were born on the same day in the same maternity ward, but cracks form when Fanning gets interested in poetry and CND demos, while Englert gets interested in men, Fanning's pacifist father (Alessandro Nivola) among them.
The early Sixties were an interesting time, when nuclear annihilation seemed imminent, and when London hadn't quite started to swing. But watching Ginger and Rosa is like hearing someone else's reminiscences of the period. Instead of a gripping narrative, we get a long string of brief, fragmentary scenes. Imagine a humourless remake of An Education, with more adolescent philosophising, plus regular close-ups of Fanning with a single tear rolling down her cheek.
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