A film review by Craig J. Koban October 17, 2012
2012, PG, 87 mins.
2012, PG, 87 mins.
With the voices of:
If you left Tim Burton’s FRANKENWEENIE feeling like you've experienced déjà vu…then…well…that’s logical.
His new 3D stop motion animated fable is a remake of his very own
30-minute 1984 live action short film of the same name he made while
working for Disney, which in turn was
an affectionate and sly homage and spoof of the 1931 film version of Mary
Shelly’s FRANKENSTEIN. Burton
was infamously fired by Disney after the short was produced (they cited
the short being too dark and scary for children as the main reason), which seems ironic in
retrospect, seeing as Burton has gone on to make the big budget feature
length remake of the short for…Disney.
an overall aesthetic style that bares resemblance to Burton’s own
produced THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and his directed CORPSE’S BRIDE,
FRANKENWEENIE tells a sweet and innocent tale of a young and
intrepid lad named Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) and his
loving relationship with his best friend in the world, a bull terrier
named Sparky. They live in the
fictitious New Holland, which seems to be stuck within an eerie 1950’s
Norman Rockwell-esque milieu. Victor
is a young enterprising filmmaker and scientist, but he seems isolated
and friendless at school, which worries his father and mother (a nicely
low-key Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara), so Victor’s dad convinces
the boy to take up sports.
father’s dream comes true - albeit briefly - for Victor and his son hits
a home run during his very first game, but poor ol’ Sparky runs after
the ball into the streets and is then run over and killed.
After they bury the deceased animal Victor becomes nearly
inconsolable, but his spirits are picked up during a lecture by his new
science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau, wickedly channeling aspects of Bela Lugosi, whom he previously
played in Burton’s ED WOOD),
who shows a demonstration of how electricity can reanimate a dead frog.
Lightning strikes (no pun intended) and Victor hatches a clever, if not a bit
ghastly plan: he will dig up the corpse of Sparky,
stitch him back together, and harness the power of a thunderstorm to bring
his beloved canine back to life.
– and much to Victor’s delight – Sparky does indeed get zapped back
to life, and even though he’s in rough shape early on, Sparky
soon appears to be running around like he was before he was driven
over…with a few nasty side-effects (like, for instance, his tail falling off from
however, realizes that he must keep his creation a secret from his mother
and father and the rest of the town out of fear of misunderstanding of his
true intent, so he desperately tries to keep Sparky secluded in his attic
with mixed results. One particularly nosey – and hunchbacked - student named
(ahem) Edward E. Gore manages to find out Victor’s secret and blackmails
him into showing him how he brought Sparky back from the dead. Unfortunately, other students find out as well, and they all
seem keen on experimenting with Victor’s methods in various forms to
potentially win an upcoming science contest, and when all of these boys
playing God reanimate their own dead pets, the results are unexpectedly
say the least.
was the case with his 1984 antecedent, Burton's FRANKENWEENIE hits its
stride when it tells the simple story of the love of a boy and his dog,
and this key theme keeps the film buoyantly alive and emotionally
resonating for viewers. It’s
also abundantly clear that this is a very personal story for Burton, as we
can easily see a bit of the director in young Victor himself, who makes
his very own stop motion animated films with his action figures and
cardboard props. It’s of interest that Burton has decided to tell this very
story not once, but twice, which more or less indicates his overall
fondness for the material.
is also a pure visual delight, lovingly crafted with the quintessential oddball
and darkly eccentric Burton-esque visual and stylistic flourishes that
have an unsophisticated beauty; character designs have a lively, energetic
and minimalist appearance and he mixes them in with an evocative suburban art
design from yesteryear that feels both familiar and foreign at the same
time. The film is in
3D, yes, but it’s welcoming and immersive instead of being a lame,
eye-gouging gimmick. I was
enchanted by just how restrained the multi-dimensional sheen of the film
is, not to mention that it’s entirely in black and white, which is a
fairly bold and courageous move for a major studio animated production. Considering the manner that FRANKENWEENIE riffs on old
classic Universal horror film motifs, the black and white feels fitting.
script from John August (he worked with Burton numerous times before on
CORPSE BRIDE, CHARLIE
AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, BIG FISH, and last summer’s DARK
SHADOWS) is enamored with many subversively funny references to FRANKENSTEIN and BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN, with more than fleeting
least later in the film) to other horror/monster film staples like
GODZILLA, during which one of Victor’s rivals reanimates his pet turtle
that morphs into a 50-foot tall creature with a ravenous bite and penchant
for destruction. The final
monster-mash third act of the film is off-puttingly chaotic and a tad
incongruent with the stark economy of the more essential arc of the
boy/dog relationship leading up to it.
The way August lets the peacefully tender tale of Victor and Sparky
give way to the crude mayhem on display in the film’s final twenty
minutes is disappointing.
another thing: FRANKENWEENIE is engineered as a tribute to
horror/monster films, but many of the sly references to those genre
efforts will undoubtedly please adults while simultaneously confound young
children in attendance. Burton’s
film is also perhaps too dark, too macabre, and frankly too scary at times
to be really accessible to kid viewers (part of the film’s demographic).
The notion of a boy digging up his dead and mutilated dog is
sinister enough, but the film also contains other crude and grisly
details, like a young girl’s cat that can psychically see into the
future via its own…feces. Yuck.
looks sensational, makes good and unobtrusive usage of 3D, and has ample
voice talent on board, my favorite being Landau’s wonderfully mannered
and creepy drollness as the teacher that just wants to introduce his
students to the wonders of science, but uses the hilariously inappropriate
word usage to describe his aims. I
liked the affectionate charm that Burton paints the story of Victor and
Sparky, something that anyone that has ever had a pet and has lost one
will clearly be able to relate to. I
liked the horror film references too.
Alas, I’m left with some semi-troubled feelings pondering whom
FRANKENWEENIE was really made for; the
adult in me ate the film up, but the young boy in me felt like too much of
it went over my head…or sent me screaming for the theatre exits.