In the new stop-motion animated movie Frankenweenie, eccentric director Tim Burton remakes and re-envisions one of his first efforts, a 1984 live-action short-film, into a loving homage to the black & white horror classics of Hollywood’s golden age – and gives new meaning to the term re-animated.
The original Frankenweenie short-film allegedly got Burton fired from Disney because he wasted their money on something that was deemed “too scary” for family viewing. Now, with his remake, the director is back with Disney – and with a vengeance – as the new Frankenweenie will probably still not set well with young children or even sensitive adults – but if it’s dark humor you desire, this movie is a real treat.
Young Victor Frankenstien (voiced by Charlie Tahan) and his little dog Sparky are great pals and they do everything together, from creating homemade monster-movies to science experiments for school. Sparky is the shy and quirky teenager’s best friend until the faithful little canine is hit and killed by a car while retrieving a baseball that was hit into the road by Victor.
After learning how electricity controls the nervous system in the body, the emotionally devastated Victor unearths the poor pup from his grave and brings him back to life, a la the classic Frankenstein story. The difference is that Sparky manages to retain his humanity (Uhhh… “Doganity?”) and his love for Victor.
Victor’s creepy classmates soon learn of Sparky’s rebirth and decide to steal and use the death-reversal technology on their own projects, in order to win the school’s science fair. The results are not as nifty as they were with Sparky and soon the town is crawling with horrific re-animated pet monsters and Victor and Sparky are the only ones who can save the day.
The voice talent in this film comes from Burton’s long time stable of actors including Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara (both from Beetlejuice), Martin Short (Mars Attacks!) and Martin Landau (Ed Wood). The top-shelf musical score is done by long-time Burton collaborator Danny Elfman, but Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter do NOT appear in this movie – which is a merciful change that I feel helps this film recapture the entertaining “spark” of some of Burton’s earlier work.
Frankenweenie is filled with curious Burtonesque characters like Edgar ‘E’ Gore (voiced by Atticus Shaffer), who is based on the iconic classic horror character “Igor,” and Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder), who is basically an animated version of the goth-girl character she played in Beetlejuice. I think my favorite though is the brutally honest and innocently gruesome science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau), who looks like a cross between Landau and the late Vincent Price.
If you are a fan of classic horror films, then you will find Frankenweenie a treasure trove of tributes to the time-honored pictures like Frankenstein and Dracula that Burton obviously has great affection for. This isn’t really a kid’s film (although some older kids may enjoy it) and its base story will probably be upsetting to many viewers – but I don’t think Tim Burton cares. Within the first seconds of the movie he turns the welcoming iconic Disney castle logo/intro into to a dark and dungeonous place that your average child will not be begging you to visit. That being said, I applaud Mr. Burton for not pulling any punches and delivering this wonderful piece of art that I’m sure he has held tight to since his initial experience with the Disney machine.
For dog lovers, the little pooch Sparky is a fully realized and adorable character. My heart was totally invested in this stop-motion animated bundle of wire and clay and it made me feel guilty and sad for my own little dog, loyally waiting for me at home while I was away watching this movie. The puppet-mutt’s mannerisms masterfully mimic a real dog and the animators have done a masterful job on this creation.
I have not been a fan of Tim Burton’s work over the past several years; he “jumped the shark” with his remake of Planet of the Apes in 2001 (although the simian blood in my veins refuses to dislike that film) and his last truly great movie was Mars Attacks, way back in 1996. But with Frankenweenie the eccentric director is back doing what he does best – creating original off-kilter material that is a feast for your eyes and your funny bone. Grade: 8/10
A quick word on 3D: I’m sure a lot of time & effort went into making this film in 3D, but for my money it was a complete waste – as are most 3D films. The gimmick only makes the picture too dark and you have to wear those stupid annoying glasses. Take the money you save by seeing the 2D version of this flick and then go see it again to catch some more of the wonderful Easter eggs that are hidden all throughout this movie.