Rental Review - Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie (2012), PG, 87 minutes - Frankenweenie is the latest stop motion animated film from Tim Burton (and the first since 2005's Corpse Bride).  Between having become a dog owner in the last year and really enjoying stop motion animation, I have been really looking forward to checking it out.

Frankenweenie is actually a feature length adaptation of a live action short film by the same name that Burton directed in 1984 (the short can be seen in the spoiler section below), and tells the story of a boy and his love for his dog.  Victor (Charlie Tahan) doesn't really have any friends other than his dog Sparky.  They do everything together.  One day during Victor's baseball game, Sparky chases the ball into the street and is hit by a car.  Sparky doesn't make it and Victor is devastated.  After seeing a demonstration about electricity in science class, Victor works on a plan to try and revive Sparky Frankenstein-style (referencing the classic Boris Karloff film and Mary Shelley's novel, although his last name also happens to be Frankenstein).  To his amazement, his experiment works and he has his furry four legged friend back!  Victor doesn't want anyone freaking out over the fact that he brought his dog back to life so he tries to confine Sparky to the attic.  As one might guess, that doesn't work out so well.  Sparky gets out and one of Victor's fellow science classmates - Edgar - sees him and figures out what Victor has done.  Edgar blackmails Victor into telling him how he brought Sparky back to life and things get crazy around town as all of the kids in the class begin trying to re-animate their old pets.

The stop motion animation is great and the black and white approach gives the film the classic monster movie feel that one would expect from a film titled Frankenweenie.  The voice acting (Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder) and character designs are also well done.  Sparky is rendered very well, as you really get a sense of his emotion despite the fact that he doesn't speak.  Danny Elfman does the score and there are a couple of scenes in which it really stands out, but overall it fits the film well without being distracting.

Frankenweenie is rated PG, and for the most part should be ok for kids to check out.  There is one scene towards the end that may be a little scary, but the film ends with a happy twist.  This really is a heartfelt story about a boy and his dog, it just so happens that it has Tim Burton's touch and more than a few winks and nods to classic monsters and horror movies that have come before.  I wouldn't call Frankenweenie a horror film per se, but it certainly has elements of the genre here and there.  Frankenweenie is definitely worth a rental, especially if you like Tim Burton, stop motion animation, or are a dog lover!











*****SPOILERS*****

- Vincent (1982), G, 6 minutes / Frankenweenie (1984), PG, 29 Minutes - As I mentioned above, here is the original live action Frankenweenie short from 1984.  This is the only English version I could find on youtube so Tim Burton's stop animation short Vincent plays before it.  Look for a young Daniel Stern, a young Sofia Coppola, and a familiar face from The NeverEnding Story (Barret Oliver)!



- It is funny that Disney fired Burton back in the '80s because they felt that works like Frankenweenie were too scary for children.  Years later, he makes virtually the same film (albeit longer) for them, only animated.

- I actually think that Frankenweenie worked really well as a live action short film.  The additions made to the story in order to make it a feature length film are ok.  They aren't bad, but they don't really add anything to the narrative other than providing an opportunity for more classic monster movie references (not that that's a bad thing).

- I absolutely loved the design of this film.  The town was reminiscent of the town in Edward Scissorhands, the school's science teacher Mr. Rzykruski is modeled after Vincent Price, there are references both visually and musically to Burton and Elfman's Batman as well as to classic monster movies.

- Oddly enough, Victor looks very much like a younger version of the Victor from Corpse Bride, although this one is named Frankenstein, not Van Dort. 

- I do have one small nitpick: Sparky (Frankenweenie) isn't actually a dachshund (aka wiener dog).  It is more obvious in the life action short than the animated version, but he appears to be a bull terrier like Spuds McKenzie from the old Budweiser commercials.  But hey, I only care because I own a miniature dachshund.  A dachshund does appear in the live action short though.

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