When young Victor's pet dog Sparky (who stars in Victor's home-made monster movies) is hit by a car, Victor decides to bring him back to life the only way he knows how. But when the bolt-necked "monster" wreaks havoc and terror in the hearts of Victor's neighbors, he has to convince them (and his parents) that despite his appearance, Sparky's still the good loyal friend he's always been.
Directed by: Tim Burton
. Starring: Catherine O'Hara
, Martin Short
, Martin Landau
, Charlie Tahan
, Atticus Shaffer
, Winona Ryder
, Robert Capron
, James Hiroyuki Liao
, Conchata Ferrell
, Tom Kenny
, Dee Bradley Baker
, Jeff Bennett
, Jon Donahue
. Music by: Danny Elfman
Frankenweenie, Tim Burton's latest stop motion-animated fantasy film, is a re-animated black ( and-white ) comedy about a re-animator that is wonderfully bizarre, macabre, and with enough adult asides and tongue-in-cheek humor that only older audience members can fully savor. ( Younger kids will still enjoy the film, but Burton's sly references and his homage to 50's Hollywood horror films will be lost on that generation of moviegoers. )
Filmed in 3-D, the director's latest venture is based on his earlier 1984 short that starred two very young newcomers named Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern. That live-action short became a cult success after Burton was unceremoniously fired by Disney, the same studio who is producing this expanded animated version. Back then, the studio did not release the film, claiming that the young animator had wasted company resources and feeling that the film was too scary for young audience. ( It still is. ) Now, more than 25 years later, Burton has joined forces with his former employer. Strange bedfellows indeed! Strange results too!
Frankenweenie (2012) still tells the same story, essentially adding new characters and some flourishes to help pad out the length of the film to an acceptable 90 minutes of mayhem and humor. For those who may not know the basic story, it goes like this: Little Victor loves Sparky, his loyal companion and dog buddy, and like most pets, Sparky unconditionally loves Victor. All goes well in this 50's suburban utopia until one day, Sparky meets with an unfortunate accident and dies. Later, a remorseful Victor discovers that electrical shocks can create temporary lifelike reactions as he learns from an experiment with a dead frog in one of his science classes at school. ( Yes, I remember those gross labs with their icky chloroformed specimens too! ) That idea sparks Victor into bringing Sparky back to life with some serious consequences happening to his family, his beloved Sparky, and their odd neighborhood friends.
Frankenweenie is a visual delight. Burton's fine satirical edge and his fondness for lost childhood innocence bolsters his artistic energies. Burton takes on the Frankenstein legend in animated form and enlivens the story with enough humor and pathos to give this film version an euphoric soul. His trademark characters with their unique stylization and exaggerated features create an exhilarating strange ( almost ) new world. At times, these characters too closely resemble some of the filmmaker's other past film creations. ( The Night Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, and Edward Scissorhands quickly come to mind. ) Yes, Burton may be stealing from himself, but his twisted mind is uniquely his own creation.
Yet, the overall effect of Frankenweenie is one of pure joy, even if it unfortunately falls apart in the film's final half hour, largely due to John August's overwrought screenplay. ( May I digress a bit: Lately this seems to be an on-going malady with most of today's films. Let's call it Unfinished Concept Syndrome, an affliction caused when the ending fails to exceed any film's successful beginnings. It is rampant and building to epidemic proportions. A heavy dose of rewriting is the only cure. Now back to the film...)
The sight gags are abundant in Frankenweenie and the time-consuming stop motion animation is fascinating to behold, but the dialog and plotting is not as clever as it could be. The script introduces certain uninteresting characters and complicates this charmingly simple story of a boy and his dog unnecessarily. These minor characters ( crude-looking classmates like Bob and Toshiaki, and Victor's one-note neighbor, Mr. Burgemeister ) and other re-animated creatures ( sea monkeys ) do little to advance the story and become plot devices used to overdo the spoofing of other monster movie legends rather than rely on the film's central duo.
However, the characters do come to life not only due to with Burton's many imaginative touches but also because of excellent voice-over work by Charlie Tahan as Victor, Martin Short and Catherine O'Hara doing Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein and other assorted characters, and Winona Ryder as Elsa Van Helsing. Also providing top support are Atticus Shaffer as Victor's friend, Edgar E. Gore, and Martin Landau as Victor's science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, a Vincent Price clone with a similar Legosi accent which is absolutely hysterical.
Also, there are several memorable sequences that register among Burton's best examples of film animation. ( These stand-outs include the makeshift laboratory scene in Victor's attic with everyday household appliances substituting for the real electrical gizmos, Sparky's frantic chase at the fair, and the windmill sequence with its skewed perspectives. ) Burton's use of shadow and light, his glorious contrast of white, black, and gray tones, and his quirky details to most of the characters are remarkable achievements in animation, especially evident in Sparky, Victor, Weird Girl, and the aforementioned Mr. R. The director again looks to his musical collaborator, Danny Elfman, to create a score to ideally match the comic weirdness which Elfman does seamlessly.
Frankenweenie may be slightly flawed but its creative spirit is wholly alive and needs no resuscitation, even if it occasionally meanders from its small but heartfelt beginnings. There are some unneeded detours in the lackluster script and some minor characters really become extraneous to the film's main action. But as long as Burton stays close to that beguiling Victor and Sparky relationship, the film can do no wrong. Even with its shortcomings, Frankenweenie is alive!!! Alive!!! GRADE: B.
Review by jadepietro from the Internet Movie Database.