With all the fabulous charm of old school Burton, Frankenweenie arrives in theaters just in time to wag its electrified tail (or tale as the case may be) for all the costumed kiddies and adults this Halloween season. It’s a fully charged black-and-white romp about a boy and his zombified dog. Gentler in form than Burton’s recent outings, the movie is a sweet reminder of just how creatively gruesome Burton and his team of artists can be.
For just under 30 years, Burton has been attached to the Frankenweenie project. Working as an animator for Walt Disney, his intention was to turn the narrative about a boy named Victor Frankenstein who reanimates his recently killed dog, Sparky, into an animated film. Time passed and the script was turned into a short live-action film for Disney in 1984. Yet, the idea of animating Frankenweenie still hung like a bat in its creator’s head.
Thanks to a briskly demented script from John August and aided the voice work of Charlie Tahan, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder, and a hilariously “Hammer”-ed cameo from Christopher Lee, the 2012 remake of Frankenweenie outshines its humble beginnings with an expanded story that includes mutant Godzilla-sized turtles, a cat that transforms into a bat, and plenty of visual humor that might be over the heads of the smaller audiences. Anyone with only a couple of Universal Monster movies under their belt should be fine, though.
For anyone turned on by director Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands and turned off by his take on Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows, Frankenweenie will give you reason to relax on your Burton criticism. While this reviewer doesn’t necessarily agree with your disdain, I do hear you. The good news is that what we originally loved about Burton’s creepy world has been restored; the long legs, the spiked-out hairdos, the ghoulish-looking kids; the bizarrely weird suburbia, appropriately named New Holland here, are all back. A sense of Burtonized chaos has been restored. He even managed to get the face and figure of Vincent Price into the picture as Victor’s new Science teacher. Complete with Danny Elfman’s moving score (also alluding back to Edward Scissorhands mojo), Frankenweenie is EXACTLY what the audience wants from Burton.
Only Burton can alarm us with honest humanity. When his characters shed tears over their fallen pets, the audience feels them, too. And when there’s a need for horror or humor to lighten the situation, he finds room for that…mostly through the visual process and a couple of 3D moments. Hours and hours went into making their movements; the 3D format really enlivens the experience. If you need to save some money, though, know that the 2D version would be perfectly fine.
The film, though, might not be welcomed by all. His devotion to the classical era of Hollywood is spot-checked throughout the feature. Some will not get those veiled references. Others will be turned off by the Burtonesque archetypes he loads the movie with. Even still, stuffed into the fervent energy of the movie is commentary about the narrow-mindedness of adults and the fact that they are often very, very, very wrong and capable of making huge mistakes. Some parents will probably take issue with this.
Frankenweenie is also not always safe for kids. It’s a fairly complex narrative that involves the resurrection of dead pets and the consequences of living a life always afraid of the unknown. Too intricate for kids? Yeah, probably. But adults – especially those who lean a little more to the left of all things dark and spooky – will gobble it up. Besides, is there anyone who can’t get on board with a boy/dog love story?
With plenty of monster movie references and horror film clichés turned on their head, Burton’s reimagining of his first cinematic venture is simply a beautifully looking film. It might be, in fact, the best animated feature of the year. While the 3D aspect doesn’t add many jump scares to the experience, the definition and detail in the stop-motion is exceptional. The artistry on display should be celebrated.
Frankenweenie provides some sweet, sweet candy this Halloween season.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements, scary images and action.
Runtime: 87 mins.
Director: Tim Burton
Writer: John August
Cast: Catherine O'Hara; Martin Short, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder, Atticus Shaffer
Genre: Horror | Family | Animated
Tagline: From the director of Alice in Wonderland
Memorable Movie Quote: "When you lose someone you love, they never really leave you."
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures
Official Site: disney.go.com/frankenweenie
Release Date: October 5, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: No details available
Synopsis: From creative genius Tim Burton ("Alice in Wonderland," The Nightmare Before Christmas") comes "Frankenweenie," a heartwarming tale about a boy and his dog. After unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky, young Victor harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life--with just a few minor adjustments. He tries to hide his home-sewn creation, but when Sparky gets out, Victor's fellow students, teachers and the entire town all learn that getting a new "leash on life" can be monstrous.
Available on Blu-ray - January 8, 2013
Screen Formats: 1.85:1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1; French: DTS-HD HR 7.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (1 BD, 1 DVD); DVD copy
Region encoding: Region-free
Walt Disney presents Tim Burton’s return to the dark humor that made him famous on Blu-ray in Frankenweenie’s original aspect ratio of 1.85.1 in a stunning AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation. This four-disc set is a must own for any fan of Burton. The black and white image shows off fine detail visible in the models and in the backgrounds. This includes the sets. Lots of nuances in the design sets this release apart from other animated films released this year. Black levels are rich and deep while shadows are fully realized. Contrast levels are clean and whites are nicely balanced. The DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track keeps the dialogue in the front of the mix but adds enough surround depth to make it an impressive release.
- None. Disappointing, I know.
Four discs sounds like a lot and Disney does give fans a Blu-ray 3D version of the film, the Blu-ray, a DVD copy, and a digital download of Frankenweenie with this release but then they drop the ball. While a new all-original Frankenweenie short is included – the 2-minute Captain Sparky vs. The Flying Saucers – there’s really not much meat left on the bone. With no commentary, all information about the making of the stop-motion film has to be mined from the 23-minute Miniatures In Motion: Bringing Frankenweenie To Life which features interviews from the film’s producer. The original 30-minute short film is included as well as a four-minute look at the film’s art and a music video for the Plain White T's cover of Pet Semetary (originally recorded by The Ramones).
- Miniatures in Motion: Bringing Frankenweenie to Life (23 min)
- Frankenweenie Short Film (30 min)
- Captain Sparky vs. The Flying Saucers (2 min)
- Frankenweenie Tour Exhibit (4 min)
- Music Video (3 min)