That's kind of a shame, because for a minute there the film looks like its setting up some unexpected and very welcome depth as a dumb accident sets off a outbreak of science-phobia among the townspeople and the film starts taking some well-deserved and desperately welcome shots at denialist culture. Turning Frankenstein on its head and into a pro-science story? Sign Bob up!
Unfortunately, it's just one quick segment and doesn't really come up again in the film. Instead, focus shifts to Victor's science fair rivals attempting undead-pet experiments of their own that instead unleash a horde of mutants that Victor and Sparky have to battle in the finale. Said battle is exciting, packing a lot of sly references and at least one genuinely scary last-minute nemesis, though it's a little discordant to be rooting against these creatures (a few of whom meet jarringly violent ends) when the rest of the film is about how justifiably elated Victor is to have Sparky back.
The main issue, though, is that all these extra shenanigans take away focus from what should be the main story of Victor and Sparky. It's not that the varying reactions of the kid's classmates to his newfound stature as a master scientist aren't fun or interesting, but looking into what being given this second chance does to the two main characters seems like it should be a lot weightier than it's presented here: Victor is the first child in history to negate (through his own actions, no less!) what's often seen as a sad but necessary rite of passage for growing up; you'd think exploring whether or not that's a good thing might be something a featuring film with all that extra breathing room would want to try.
The plain fact of the matter is, Tim Burton has never been a sure hand with narrative. He's a virtuoso stylist and a master of mood, and you can feel the tangible extra effort going into the work when some aspect of it lights up one of his specific fetishes (a major supporting character bears an unsurprising resemblance to the late Vincent Price), but he's never been able to paint his way out of a problematic script.
Like most of the other better Tim Burton movies, Frankenweenie is mostly interesting separate beats held together by a good enough story. I was entertained by it, would even recommend it, and I can definitely seeing it becoming a personal favorite of young kids of Victor's relative age and disposition, but I don't think it's any kind of New Classic. As for whether or not this being the most Tim Burton-y Tim Burton movie in a while means he's getting back to form? I can't even begin to guess. Like it or not, not everything lasts, and if Burton's supposed golden age has passed it might be something not even a bolt of lightning can revive.
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you've heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.