US Release Date: 10-05-2012
Directed by: Tim Burton
- Catherine O'Hara, as
- Mrs. Frankenstien/Weird Girl/Gym Teacher (voice)
- Martin Short, as
- Mr. Frankenstein/Mr. Burgemeister/Nassor (voice)
- Martin Landau, as
- Mr. Rzykruski (voice)
- Charlie Tahan, as
- Victor Frankenstien (voice)
- Atticus Shaffer, as
- Edgar 'E' Gore (voice)
- Winona Ryder, as
- Elsa Van Helsing (voice)
- Robert Capron, as
- Bob (voice)
- James Hiroyuki Liao, as
- Toshiaki (voice)
- Conchata Ferrell, as
- Bob's Mom (voice)
- Tom Kenny, as
- New Holland Townsfolk (voice)
- Christopher Lee as
- Movie Dracula (archive footage)
A boy and his dead dog in Frankenweenie.
As the title suggests, Frankenweenie is Tim Burton's animated homage to James Whale's Frankenstein movies of the 1930s. It is also a remake of his own short film of the same name made in 1984. It is Burton's fourth stop-motion animated film as a producer and the first not to be a musical. Like the movies that inspired it, Frankenweenie is in black & white.
The setting is your typical suburban neighborhood. Victor Frankenstein is a young boy of about twelve who lives with his parents and faithful dog Sparky. Tragedy strikes when Sparky gets hit by a car after chasing a baseball. Inspired by his weird old science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau) Victor attempts to reanimate Sparky in his attic laboratory, in a scene that directly emulates Dr. Frankenstein's experiment in the original movie.
Mr. Rzykruski later gets the funniest speech in the movie when his student's parents confront him at the science fair and he tells them, “Ladies and gentlemen. I think the confusion here is that you are all very ignorant. Is that the right word, ignorant? I mean stupid, primitive, unenlightened. You do not understand science, so you are afraid of it. Like a dog is afraid of thunder or balloons. To you, science is magic and witchcraft because you have such small minds. I cannot make your heads bigger, but your children's heads, I can take them and crack them open. This is what I try to do, to get at their brains!” He's not frightening at all!
Frankenweenie is filled with sly nods to many other films from Nosferatu to Bambi, from The Birds to Batman and even an homage to the Rankin & Bass holiday perennial Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (the Frankenstein's neighbor is a meddlesome old character named Mr. Bergermeister). The neighbor dog (a female poodle) even acquires white highlights shaped like lightning bolts in her hair after she touches the electrified Sparky, just like Elsa Lanchester in Bride of Frankenstein.
Anyway, Victor succeeds in reanimating his loyal four-legged friend. But of course things go awry when other kids discover what Victor has done and they do likewise with their deceased pets, raiding the local pet cemetery in the process. These experiments create monsters from the dead pets and soon the town is being terrorized by these creatures, which include a cat crossed with a bat, a wererat (you know, a rodent version of a werewolf), a mummified hamster named Colossus, and a turtle that grows to an enormous size and rampages like Godzilla through town.
Frankenweenie is delightfully old fashioned in style and execution. It may not be an idea the world was clamoring for but it is an imaginative little tribute to horror films of the past. A great Halloween watch for young kids.
Just your average boy and his undead dog tale.
Frankenweenie is a stupid title, even for a cartoon parody/homage of Frankenstein. It's a cheap laugh and as silly as it sounds, is part of what put me off watching it when it was released. The other reason I avoided it is because I have a love/hate relationship with Tim Burton's films as he seems to produce as many bad films as good ones. I must admit after watching it though, that this one is fairly enjoyable.
As Patrick mentioned, it's a remake of a short, live action film that Burton produced in 1984, starring Shelly Duvall and Daniel Stern as the parents. This remake follows the plot to the original pretty closely, but does expand upon it to a great degree. There are no other monsters in the live action version and the finale takes place at the windmill hole of the local miniature golf course. It's available to watch for free on YouTube and runs just 25 minutes.
I actually enjoyed the live action version more than the full length cartoon for a couple of reasons. Although Patrick described the setting of the animated feature as, “your typical suburban neighborhood”, it's actually a neighborhood filled with dark and twisted characters. Victor is an odd child and his school friends are macabre and strange. It doesn't seem that much of a stretch for them to want to raise the dead. In the short though, the neighborhood really is something out of Leave it to Beaver and so the idea of raising a dog from the dead is more surreal. Also, using live action (in those pre-CGI days) meant Burton had to be much more inventive with the special effects, which gives the short a touch of charm.
That isn't to say that this remake isn't entertaining on its own. I enjoyed all of the references to the original Frankenstein and other classic horror films. There are also some nice moments of humor. Patrick enjoyed Mr. Rzykruski's speech, but I laughed most at Mr. Whiskers's ability to predict the future by pooping out letters that indicated a person's name. Is Mr. Bergermeister a tribute to Rankin & Bass or just a nod to the Burgomaster character in the 1931 Frankenstein film?
One minor point that does nothing to seriously detract from the film, but which stood out to me is that while it's obviously set in the 1950s or 1960s, there are at least two modern references that seem anachronistic. One of the children suggests they run a computer simulation and a parent mentions that Pluto is no longer a planet. Not so important in a children's cartoon, but they were obvious enough that I noticed them.
Ironically, Burton was fired from Disney after he made the original short because the Disney executives didn't like it and thought it too scary for children. Who knew that 30 years later he'd be making a full-length animated version for the very same studio that fired him.
Tim Burton and his little Frankenweenie.
Having enjoyed very few of Tim Burton's films, I had little expectation for Frankenweenie. It turned out to be pretty much exactly what I expected. It is slightly dark, as it deals with death, a far too common theme of Burton's. He demonstrates his usual creativity but his attraction to gothic images is not my cup of tea.
From what I have read, Burton was a loner as a child, spending much of his time drawing and watching old horror movies. This film, like so much of his other work, reflects that. Frankenweenie starts with young Victor showing his parents a home movie he made in his backyard. His teacher, Mr. Rzykruski resembles some mad scientist. As Patrick wrote, he has some great lines. I like how he explains lightning.
The class is full of students who resemble characters from horror films. One boy looks like Frankenstein's monster. While another is a variation on Igor. One Blonde haired girl with big eyes looks like one of those kids from Village of the Damned (1960). The way she predicts the future is foul but worth a laugh.
As I find with most of Tim Burton's films, it has some good moments but the plot is not that engaging. The decision to film it in black and white was stupid. The world of Burton's childhood was in color as was all of ours. Nothing is gained by filming it in black and white. If anything, it takes away enjoyment for the audience. As Scott wrote, after watching this, the color really popped in ParaNorman.
Stop-motion animation was huge this year. I am really warming to the art form. Three of the five movies nominated for an Academy Award for best Animated Feature were done in claymation. Of the three, Frankenweenie suffers the most visually due to the lack of color.
I am not sure why Burton is fascinated with death but I wish he would find some new inspiration. So many of his films are merely about a loner and or death. He has exhausted those themes. Watching his films are like going to funerals with a bunch of eccentric relatives.
Photos © Copyright Walt Disney (2012)