Frankenweenie

PhotobucketSimple, childlike drama about an intelligent young boy that tames the benefits of electrical power to bring his beloved dog Sparky back to life. As the title suggests, the story is a kiddie version of the vintage Frankenstein tale. Frankenweenie was originally a live action short starring Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern released back in 1984. In its current incarnation, the 30 minute anecdote has been expanded to an 87 minute animated fantasy.

First the good. It’s one of Tim Burton’s most sweetly accessible family friendly films since Corpse Bride. It certainly looks fantastic. I don’t think anyone questions the director’s fetching macabre style. There’s a welcome purity in the visuals that actually benefit the modest tale. The movie is photographed in black in white as a tribute to the horror classics of the 1930s. The cast is fittingly quirky with four of his previous collaborators that include Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, and Winona Ryder. Their new substitute science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, a particular standout. He is a ghastly joy, delightfully voiced by Martin Landau but with features that almost recall Vincent Price. There’s a magnificently uncontrolled climax that utilizes the idea of a science fair gone amok.

Now the bad. The whole affair has Tim Burton just coasting on the fumes of his earlier successes. The plot is slight in the extreme. Very little of it is innovative or original. The frequent allusions to other people’s works including Bride of Frankenstein or Godzilla feels more like lazy borrowing than the homage I think they’re meant to be. The few attempts at humor are weak and aimed strictly at young children.

Frankenweenie has the mark of quality. It’s a beautifully mounted stop-motion animation that will entertain an undemanding audience. The chronicle of a boy’s love for his dog by way of Frankenstein isn’t particularly fresh. I’ll admit, however, the visual feast is a retro production designer’s dream. The narrative is marked by a tranquil restraint that has been lacking in the director’s recent big budget creations as of late. Yes, this science-fiction comedy horror is pleasant enough, but it’s no classic.

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16 Responses to “Frankenweenie”

  1. Harsh! I’m usually a plot kinda guy but I didn’t mind its thinness because the movies it played homage to do have very little plot. I admired that it dared to be as simple as possible so it could zero in on the relationship between the boy and his dog. And since children is the target demographic, I think they’ll appreciate that as well.

    Also, I didn’t feel as though Burton was riding on the waves of his earlier successes. On the contrary, I felt like the look of the film as well as the script had a lot of love put into it. “Frankenweenie” is lightyears better than a lot of animated movies (i.e. “The Lorax”) released this year so far.

    • The movies it played homage to also came out 80 years ago. I expected a twist or something new I guess. I’m not even sure about children appreciating this. My theater was fairly empty but the few kids that were there sat silent throughout the film. One even had to be woken up when the film was over. No joke!

  2. Nice review. You’re not harsh on it but you’re not as kind as many of the reviews I’ve read this past weekend. Let’s see how this does when it opens here next Friday. Yesterday I watched the original short in preparation.

  3. I thought it was just ok. Really nothing special. Sure, it looked great and being a dog lover, I’d probably do the same thing to my pet, ( if i could), but I wasn’t blown away. Nothing new here. Sorry.

  4. Good review Mark. Being a dog lover definitely helps this flick’s story a lot more, but also does the love and knowledge for the old-school horror movies that Burton so obviously loves. Great return-to-form for him, let’s just hope he can keep it going.

  5. I might rent this one. As someone who lost my beloved pet in my childhood, I could relate with the story. I just saw Burton’s Corpse Bride for the first time not too long ago, I quite like his animation style.

  6. I’m kind of excited about this one. I’ll probably see it on DVD. I guess it’s better than Dark Shadows, which is relieving.

  7. Great post and wonderfull blog, hope to see more from you

  8. Great review, Mark. I adored Frankenweenie. Sparky really tugged on my heart strings and has made it into my list of favourite fictional dogs!

  9. I never got round to writing up a review of Frankenweenie after I saw it, it just underwhelmed me so much, I thought it had an interesting opening, and an okay ending, but I can remember sitting in the theatre and having that feeling that I was in danger of nodding off during the middle, which is never a good thing. This is just due to the story originally being a short, and then being stretched out to 90 minutes, it just doesn’t have the legs. It looks nice, though i struggle looking at black and white, and it’s animated fairly well, but it pales in comparison to another stop-motion animation movie released this year in all regards – Paranorman.

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