Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) is an odd but likeable young boy. He has no friends except for his faithful dog Sparky. His mom and dad (voiced by Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short) would like Victor to make more friends at school but the only person he is close to is his science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau). To encourage Victor to try new things, his father tells him that the only way he will sign the permission slip for Victor to enter the science fair at school is if he gives baseball a try. Victor agrees and hits a home run at his first at bat but Sparky chases after the ball, is hit by a car and dies. Victor is inconsolable at the loss but perks up when Mr. Rzykruski demonstrates how electricity can make a dead frog’s legs twitch. That night, Victor collects various appliances from around the house and connects them all in the attic where he and Sparky used to play. He retrieves Sparky’s corpse from his grave, sews up his various injuries, attaches bolts to his neck and then attaches wires to the bolts. As a thunderstorm builds, Victor launches kites through a skylight in the roof and raises Sparky on a platform out the skylight as well. A bolt of lightning hits the kites sending massive amounts of energy through the various appliances and into the wires attached to the bolts in Sparky’s neck. After a few tense moments, Sparky’s tale begins to wag. Victor has brought is beloved pet back to life. Not sure what his parents would think of his revived pet, Victor wants Sparky to stay hidden in the attic, but Sparky gets out, walks around the neighborhood and is seen by one of Victor’s classmates, Edgar E. Gore (voiced by Atticus Shaffer), a small and somewhat deformed young boy with a hunchback. Edgar threatens to tell Victor’s parents about Sparky unless he reveals his secret. With the science fair coming up, Edgar thinks he will be able to win first prize and tells other classmates about Victor’s discovery, leading to a rush of young scientists trying to revive lost pets but with unintended and possibly dangerous consequences.
While working for Walt Disney Pictures in 1984, young filmmaker Tim Burton made a live action short called “Frankenweenie” that follows most of the same storyline. Disney fired Burton because they considered what he made a waste of its $1-million budget and too scary to show to children in front of one of their cartoons. Twenty-eight years later, Burton and Disney spent nearly $40-million to turn a 30 minute live action movie into a 90-minute stop motion animated 3D film. I guess the old saying “The more things change, the more they stay the same” is absolutely true, especially in Hollywood.
“Frankenweenie” is a tale that will resonate with anyone who has lost a beloved pet. Victor’s grief over the loss of Sparky is clearly evident and radiates through the screen into the audience. The reason for this is the expressive faces on Burton’s stop-motion figures. The artists responsible for these creations should be very proud of their work. While they bear a great resemblance to characters in Burton’s other stop-motion films, “Corpse Bride” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” they also have a softness and warmth that make them better able to convey relatable emotion. Some of the characters faces are frozen in one expression, such as Victor’s neighbor, Mr. Bergermeister. His perpetual frown and stern gaze, along with his dialog voiced by Short, are an indication of how seriously he takes himself and his disdain for most of those he encounters. Another character with a frozen expression is only known as Weird Girl. She has a cat named Mr. Whiskers she carries with her wherever she goes. Her eyes are enormous and she speaks with a barely audible whisper provided by O’Hara. Each character is given some kind of physicality that makes them unique as is common in animated films but “Frankenweenie” also uses this device to pay homage to the classic 1931 monster movie “Frankenstein.” Along with Sparky’s neck bolts and Edgar’s hunchback, one character has a flat head while the poodle of a neighbor has white streaks of fur running up her perfectly groomed head like those of “The Bride of Frankenstein.”
The script is somewhat bare bones letting the images do most of the talking; however, it does make a statement about one character that could get the film some negative attention. The character of Toshiaki (voiced by James Hiroyuki Liao), a classmate of Victor’s, is presented as devious and frequently videotaping the events in the film. This could be considered a negative, stereotypical portrayal of an Asian character. While most of the other characters in Victor’s class are either schemers or just plain weird, none are of any discernible ethnicity. This seems like an odd and unnecessary choice by Burton making him vulnerable to criticism for something that doesn’t add anything to the story.
Parents may also be in for an uncomfortable discussion with their children about why they can’t dig up their dead pets and simply plug them into the closest wall socket to bring them back to life; especially since (mild spoiler) it happens several times over the course of the movie. This may also be looked at as an opportunity to talk about how life is precious and should be lived to the fullest each day as it’s impossible to do what the film does.
“Frankenweenie” is rated PG for thematic elements, scary images and action. The subject of death is nearly constant in the film. Several animals brought back to life are mutated and become aggressive. This leads to the action in the film. There is no foul language.
The film is available in both 2D and 3D. I saw the 3D version but I can’t suggest you spend the extra money as there’s nothing very extra dimensional about the movie. Actually, that’s not exactly true. While the visuals don’t jump out at you, the characters, the story, the humor and the emotion will. Still, you can save a little cash, see the 2D and still have just as good an experience.
“Frankenweenie” gets five guitars out of five.
Several new movies for you to choose from arrive at your local multiplex this week. Vote for the one I see and review next.
Argo—When Iranian students stormed the US Embassy in 1979, six diplomats were able to sneak out and hide in the Canadian Embassy. It took a CIA agent and a fake movie crew to get them out alive.
Here Comes the Boom—A high school biology teacher moonlights as a mixed-martial arts fighter in an effort to raise money to save the school's music program.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower—Based on the book of the same name, the movie follows three young people as they deal with the dizzying highs and crushing lows of growing up.
Seven Psychopaths—When two con artists, who make a living kidnapping dogs and collecting the reward for their return, snatch the wrong guy’s pooch, it sets in motion a dizzying series of events no one expects.
Sinister—Found footage helps a true-crime novelist realize how and why a family was murdered in his new home, though his discoveries put his entire family in the path of a supernatural entity.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film currently playing in theatres.
Release dates are subject to change and not all films may be shown in Knoxville, TN.