Based on the original 1984 short film of the same name by Tim Burton, Frankenweenie is Disney’s latest effort with the famed director. Frankenweeine, definitely shows Tim Burton back in rare form.
Victor Frankenstien is a bit of a loner, more interested in science than friends. He’s a typical small town kid growing up in 1950’s suburbia. His only friend is his faithful dog Sparky. One day Sparky is hit by an oncoming car and an inconsolable Victor is forced to bury his best friend. After seeing an electricity experiment in school, Victor knows how to revive his best friend. A la Frankenstein, Victor rigs a whole scientific process where he electrifies Sparky back to life. Hyjinks ensue as Victor tries to keep Sparky a secret and deal with competing in a school science fair. Soon the other kids in class have found out about Sparky and this amazing ability to bring dead pets back to life. They’re creating their own monsters, including a Godzilla-like turtle, rabid sea monkeys, and a cat-bat creature that meets a very vampiric end. Chaos ensues when these creatures are released and it’s up to Sparky and Victor to save the day. The action culminates in a battle at the local windmill, with the townspeople ready to burn Sparky. The dog of the dead turns out to be the hero and all is set right. As Victor’s dad says, “Sometimes grownups don’t know what they’re talking about.”
The kid-friendly film is almost an exact duplicate of the 1984 short film, padded out with an extra hour of story. Many of the visuals, including the graveyard and the film Victor produces at the beginning and the drawings Victor does of his dog, Sparky, are taken verbatim from the original film. At times the original short looks like a storyboard for the final film. The character designs are taken from one of Burton’s early books, The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy. It was amazing that they could render in 3D, the startling shapes and the line work that infuses Burton’s unlikely drawings as magical.
The film, like the original, is an homage to classic horror villains like, The Mummy, Frankenstein, Dracula and Godzilla. Many scenes looked like they had been ripped from various versions of those movies. Burton infuses more of those horror elements, which blend perfectly with the “horror” of the 1950’s setting and the suburban culture of suspicion and fear at that time. The movie shows this is scenes like Victor’s teacher being thrown out of the school for promoting new ideas about science. This is not in the original short but it goes to the theme of close-minded paranoia of the time.
The movie will be a treat for any long-time Tim Burton fan. All of his classic tropes and characters and his unique visual style are back in play here. It feels genuine, unlike some of his latest efforts like Alice in Wonderland. Frankenweenie definitely feels more like Ed Wood in its feel and feeling. It works on many levels. I doubt the kids in the theater knew any of the references to classic film or Tim Burton’s other works, but they seemed to enjoy themselves nonetheless. I was the oldest person in the theater without a kid and I was a little sad over that fact. Great cinema is great cinema. Recommended if you’re a horror fan or a Tim Burton fan.
8 reanimated corpses out of 10