One can’t help but assume that Tim Burton lost a beloved canine friend as a child and has never quite gotten over the death. From “The Nightmare Before Christmas” to “Corpse Bride,” deceased dogs have been a reoccurring archetype in the animated features attached to Burton. His fascination with departed animals can be traced back to “Frankenweenie,” a 1984 short film he directed for Disney. The thirty-minute short was equal parts a homage and satire of the “Frankenstein” tale in which a little boy brought his Bull Terrier back to life.
Disney initially felt the “Frankenweenie” short was too scary for younger viewers. This resulted in the studio giving Burton the boot, sending him on a trail that would lead to live-action successes such as “Beetlejuice,” “Batman,” and “Edward Scissorhands.” Disney and Burton are now officially back on good terms, especially since their recent reimagining of “Alice in Wonderland” made over a billion dollars. This has made leeway for Disney to distribute Burton’s remake of “Frankenweenie,” a stop-motion animated fable that manages to be charming despite the grim nature of the narrative. It’s also probably the only 3D black and white film you’re likely to ever see.
This expanded version of “Frankenweenie” tells the story of little Victor Frankenstein, voiced by Charlie Tahan, an outcast that spends his days making home movies and science experiments. Victor’s only friend is his beloved pooch, Sparky, whose life is tragically cut short after getting hit by a car. Martin Landau is superlatively cast as Mr. Rzykruski, a science teacher fascinated by the effects of lightning. Inspired by Mr. Rzykruski, Victor comes up with an experiment to bring Sparky back from the dead. Recreating the classic scene from the 1931 “Frankenstein” film, Victor places the corpse of Sparky on an operating table and raises it into the night sky during a lightning storm. The experiment succeeds in resurrecting Sparking, although fragments of his body occasionally fall off.
Some children may be turned off by the fact that “Frankenweenie” is shot entirely in black and white. Those that appreciate the art of film and classic monster flicks however, will love this movie for its pleasantly eerie tone and atmosphere. The film not only cleverly pays tribute to “Frankenstein,” but also “The Wolf Man,” “Creature from the Black Lagoon,” “Gremlins,” and even “Gamera.” Like “ParaNorman,” another gothic stop-motion feature from a couple months ago, “Frankenweenie” is a family movie with true admiration for animation, horror and everything in between.
The film includes grand side characters, including Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short as Victor’s parents, Winona Ryder as a Lydia-like neighbor girl, and Atticus Shaffer from “The Middle” as the hunchbacked, deformed Edgar “E” Gore. They’re all a ton of fun to observe with their misshapen bodies and wide, weary eyes. But this is truly Victor and Sparky’s movie in a horrifyingly heartfelt tale about the bond between a child and man’s best friend. Any child that goes to see “Frankenweenie” subsequent to losing a pet should not take the film too literally though. I’d hate to think that a kid might be influenced to dig up their pet and try to harness a bolt of lightning to bring it back.
Nick Spake is a college student at Arizona State University. He has been working as a film critic for the past seven years, reviewing movies on his website, NICKPICKSFLICKS.com
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