Thursday, October 11, 2012


The Vincent Price-esque Mr. Rzykruski, voiced by Martin Landau in Tim Burton's Frankenweenie
*** out of ****

When Tim Burton's not rebooting other popular works, I guess he's remaking his own. In 1984, he made a cute little short film called Frankenweenie which was about a kid resurrecting his dog in a way that spoofed Frankenstein, The Bride of Frankenstein and other classic horror films. Now he’s stretched that concept into a feature-length stop-motion animated film –and, like the original, it’s in black and white! Most directors have a lot of trouble getting a studio to agree to a movie in that form today. The fact that Burton got a kids movie to be released this way is pretty amazing. Maybe Disney has no problem with such an endeavor, as long as it’s in 3D. This will be a test for families everywhere. I deeply resent the supposed intolerance for black and white by modern audiences.

From the start, the movie addresses its 3D format by showing the main character, a kid named Victor, premiering a homemade 3D movie to his parents in their living room using two projectors as they all wear anaglyph 3D glasses. The home movie stars his dog, Sparky, as a giant monster terrorizing a model city. Victor is a brainy science wiz with no friends except for Sparky. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein (Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara -who provide several other character’s voices) are concerned that he needs a social life. In an attempt to do something of the sort, young Victor plays baseball, where Sparky comes along. Sparky runs after a home-run ball out of the park where he is hit by a car and killed.

Victor is devastated from losing his best and only friend. In the next few days, he sees a demonstration in a science class that inspires him to attempt to reanimate Sparky the way you would imagine a kid named Frankenstein would. It works, and unlike many stories that deal with this theme, Sparky is still Sparky. Despite being stitched up with bolts coming out of his neck, he’s not some creepy zombie dog. Meanwhile other kids at school hear a rumor of what Victor has done and attempt to do the same with their dead pets and the results vary in ways that resemble other classic monster movies.

There are several other subplots, all of which are amusing but like the main plot, don’t really have much of a purpose. They function to pay homage to movies Tim Burton liked as a kid and without much heart. Even the best Tim Burton movies are preoccupied with style to a fault. I enjoyed the style in this movie but I felt annoyed near the end when it forced such phony obligatory sentimentality of the kind expected in lighter kids movies. Is it wrong to make a kids movie that is supposed to be funny and look cool without any kind of forced message?
Burton falls flat on his face in the attempt to add a personal side to this story. He's a director among many who seems to be afraid of human emotion. So whenever he tries to add it into his work, it seems unnatural. 
The entertaining side to Burton has always been his tendency to mock most people's everyday concerns and sympathize with monsters. In the case of Frankenweenie, there is more sympathy for Sparky, who is portrayed with more personality than any other character.
Another character I’m sure Burton has absolute sympathy for, is the science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski -voiced by Martin Landau and modeled to look like a mutant Vincent Price. The teacher gets all the kids exited about science projects, which result in dangerous accidents by some of the more ambitious students. He then falls under scrutiny by the parents as they blame science and his teachings for their trouble. He hilariously calls the parents all unenlightened idiots. What starts out as a suburban PTA meeting as a parallel for the frightened villagers, goes in a potentially profound direction with a great opportunity to find a good meaningful center. Alas, this strong theme and implications of modern issues in education seems more like an afterthought that screenwriter John August managed to scoot in.
The movie looks fantastic and is an aesthetic tribute to all things that I’m sure inspired Burton when he was young. A lot of credit needs to be given to Mackinnon & Saunders, the company that designed and created all of the stop-motion puppets. They worked with Burton before on Corpse Bride and Mars Attacks. They also made one of the creepiest animated shorts I’ve ever seen: The Sandman (Click this link to watch it!)
Frankenweenie is worth a theatrical viewing. It’s cute, great looking, is one of the few stop-motion animated movies you’ll see in a year, and has good 3D. I just can’t promise you or any child will get much out of the meaning it pretends to have. At least Burton left Johnny Depp alone for a minute. Lets just hope he doesn’t ask him to star in a remake of Edward Scissorhands

Here's Tasha Robinson's review from AV Club.

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