Frankenweenie Review: Another Tim Burton Masterpiece?
“Frankenweenie was designed to appeal to both adults and older kids: it’s fresh, ingeniously-written, and as well stitched together as Frankenstein himself.”
Tim Burton’s movies are deliciously Gothic and weird. They are like those kids in high school you were too afraid to talk to, but still secretly thought were cool. You’ll never find a sparkling vampire in a Tim Burton film and, in my book, that makes him pretty freaking awesome. I love how he loves to pay homage to vintage horror movies and I’ve secretly fantasied about him and Rob Zombie doing a film together for a long time.
There is one thing I have to get off my chest about this film first, and it’s not so much about the film as it is about its name. I don’t get the name: Why Frankenweenie? I understand the ode to Frankenstein but what about the Weenie part? If the dog was a wiener dog (aka Dachshund) or something like that, it would make more sense. The dog is a Bull Terrier, however, and his name is Sparky. If anyone can clear this up or get ahold of Mr. Burton so I can ask him, please let me know.
Rated PG and clocking in at 87 minutes, this film had a story to tell and didn’t waste any time in telling it. Frankenweenie is based on a 1984 short film Burton made about young Victor Frankenstein and his dog, Sparky, and I’m glad Disney finally green lit a feature length film. It goes to show how much the world has changed in 30 years and how little Mr. Burton has. Disney thought the story was a waste of money that would scare children in 1984, but in 2012 they’re proudly promoting it. Meanwhile, Burton changed little of his original story.
I have a funny story to tell about some of my fellow movie goers. An adorable little child was seated behind us and was asking her parents some tough questions during the film. Near the start of the film, when the Victor loses Sparky and is crying while his parents try to comfort him, the little girl behind us asked her parents why the little boy was crying. She did not understand that the Victor had just lost his beloved pet. That brings me to my next point: children that are too young to understand concepts about life and death should not watch this film. It’s dark, Gothic, scary at times, and is meant for more mature audiences that can understand and cope. So if you have small children please think carefully before taking them to see this film.
If it were not for Mr. Burton’s love of the macabre, this type of movie would never have been born and only a mind such as his can pull it off with finesse. I’m glad this movie was made because what it lacks in originality, it makes up for in inventiveness. The Frankenstein story is an old one, but Mr. Burton seems to have a way of looking at old things and reinventing them in a new light.
The new Frankenweenie is a piece of art and must be viewed as such, and in my opinion is easily Burton’s best work in years. It’s done entirely in stop-motion instead of live-action. The character design is full of terrific touches and details, such as the patches on Sparky and the detail on his ears. The black-and-white photography perfectly evokes the feelings of creepy old classics. One scene in particular stands out in my mind as something that could have been right out of an old Alfred Hitchcock film. There is a “blood” splatter on a wall. It turns out to not be blood, but because of the black and white photography and the vibe the film is giving off, it looks convincingly like blood.
I also want to applaud the voice talent. Charlie Tahan was the voice of Victor Frankenstein. Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short voice Victor’s parents, and a few other characters as well. Winona Ryder, who has worked with Burton for many years, voices the weird next-door neighbor girl named Elsa Van Helsing. Martin Landau plays the eccentric science teacher, Mr. Ryzkruski, who was the inspiration for Sparky’s reanimation and a delight to watch. A lot of the voice talents in the cast have been in other Burton films, and this definitely creates a sense of familiarity. The last bit of praise that I was to bestow has to go to Danny Elfman. He did the music for this film, and I loved every second of it.
The plot for Frankenweenie wasn’t changed much from the 30 years old version. Victor is a social outcast who lives in suburbia with loving parents. He loves science, making monster movies, and most of all, his dog Sparky. Victor’s father feels the need to make him do normal things like play baseball, and at his first game, Victor hits a home run. His delight is turned to horror when Sparky is accidentally killed by a car while chasing the ball. Victor is distraught, distracted, and aloof until Mr. Ryzkruski inspires him with a science experiment in class using a dead frog and a battery. This experiment triggers the budding genius’s mind to start working overtime and in no time flat Victor has set up a laboratory in his attic. Victor then uses a bolt of lightning to reanimate his best friend after digging him up from the local pet cemetery. Now things start to get strange. Right on cue, as you would expect, crazy stuff starts happening because these things never quite work out the way they are planned.
A classmate, Edgar E. Gore (voiced by Atticus Shaffer), is the one who first spots the revived Sparky and tries to blackmail Victor into helping him with his own science fair project. The end result is the reanimation of a dead goldfish that becomes invisible and eventually expires, but not before Edgar can blab to the other children in their class. The other classmates then dig up their own dead pets in order to try and replicate Edgar and Victor’s results. The reanimated dead pets are monstrous — and hilarious. Burton has given us a lot of insight behind the inspiration for this film: Frankenweenie was a personal movie for him — Sparky was inspired by the dog he had as a child. The film does come off feeling a little personal even though it’s more comedic then serious. There are many homages to the classic Frankenstein, based on the book by Mary Shelley, including the bolts in Sparky’s neck, the white streak in the Elsa’s poodle’s fur, the fact that it’s filmed in black and white and the angry torch and pitchfork wielding mob near the end.
With so much stuff happening all at once, and with the sensitive emotions that are triggered throughout, it was kind of hard to remember that Frankenweenie was a monster movie. It was never really scary on an adult level, but there are a few parts that make some people (especially young children) jump. Near the end of the film, when all the monsters are running amok causing havoc, you may be gripping the edge of your seat locked into the suspense of wondering what is going to happen next. It can be easy to lose sight of the key things that Burton is trying to say and remind us of. He seems to want us to see the importance of science, the importance of remembering the past learning from it, and the importance of being yourself. He does all this while plucking on the heartstrings of any pet owner who has lost someone close to them.
This film was designed to appeal to both adults and older kids: it’s fresh, ingeniously-written, and as well stitched together as Frankenstein himself. Clever and fun and affectionately contagious, Frankenweenie is a throwback to a simpler time, and is a loving ballad to classic horror flicks. Debatable is the question of whether Frankenweenie or ParaNorman, released in August, is the better monster film this year.
It was incredibly surprising to me to see that Frankenweenie only brought in 11.5 Million in the first three days of its opening weekend, especially since it had a budget of nearly 40 million dollars. It did have some stiff competition, however, and I don’t know when this time of year they could have released it to avoid this. There are some great looking movies coming out every week this month, but hopefully more people will go see it and that with DVD and Blu-Ray sales will help them turn a profit. This movie deserves it, and does not deserve to go silently into the night.
If you like Tim Burton or this style of film and haven’t see some of his other recent stuff I personally recommend the following from his recent catalog of films: Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows, and, of course, the classic The Nightmare Before Christmas