Movie Review: Frankenweenie
Length: 87 minutes
Release Date: October 5, 2012
Directed by: Tim Burton
Stars: 4 out of 5
"Frankenweenie" is an animated film directed and produced by Tim Burton. The screenplay was written by John August, and it is based on the 1984 film of the same name that Burton directed. "Frankenweenie" is primarily a parody of the 1931 film "Frankenstein," which was based on the book by Mary Shelley. This 3-D film is the first stop-motion film and the first black-and-white film to be available in the IMAX 3-D format. "Frankenweenie" has generally received positive reviews by critics and audiences.
Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) is a young scientist who lives with his parents Ben (Martin Short) and Susan (Catherine O'Hara). Victor conducts experiments and has few companions other than his dog Sparky. Victor's father encourages him to play baseball as a means of getting him to socialize with other children. Victor hits a home run in his first baseball game, and Sparky is run over by a car when he chases after the ball.
Victor is depressed by Sparky's death and wants to bring Sparky back to life, so he digs up the corpse and builds a laboratory in his attic. Victor uses lightning to reanimate Sparky's corpse, but Sparky escapes when he chases after a cat. Edgar "E" Gore (Atticus Shaffer) is one of Victor's classmates who recognizes that Sparky is an animated corpse. Edgar blackmails Victor into revealing his reanimation process, allowing Edgar to reanimate a goldfish. Edgar brags to the rest of the class about the goldfish, which causes a general interest in reanimation.
Victor's parents discover his laboratory in the attic, so Victor and Sparky run away from home. His parents also find the reanimation formula, and soon all of Victor's classmates are reanimating dead animals. Nassor-also voiced by Martin short-reanimates his hamster, which now looks like a mummy. Toshiaki (James Hiroyuki Liao) brings his pet turtle back to life, which becomes a giant monster. Bob transforms his sea monkeys, which begin chasing him. The classmates and townsfolk must now defeat all of these animated pets to save their town.
"Frankenweenie" offers a new take on the classic boy-and-his-dog tale. It also uses state-of-the-art technology to breathe new life into the traditional film-production method of stop-motion animation. This black-and-white film deliberately includes additional anachronisms, such as its setting in American suburbia during the early 1960s. The opening scene shows the Frankenstein family watching a home movie of Victor and Sparky on Super 8MM film.
The cast includes veteran voice actors and newcomers. Martin Short, Catherine O'Hara, and Winona Ryder all provide excellent performances in several roles. The primary roles of Short and O'Hara are Victor's well-meaning and bumbling parents, which they play with aplomb. Ryder is perfect as Victor's sweetly innocent love interest, Elsa Van Helsing. Martin Landau repeatedly brings down the house with his portrayal of a mad scientist with an Eastern European accent.
Charlie Tahan is a newcomer to acting who most recently played Sam Efron in the 2010 romantic drama "Charlie St. Cloud." He provides an understated performance as Victor that tugs at the audience's heartstrings. Atticus Shaffer also hits his mark as the Igor-like hunchback Edgar. The main characters in "Frankenweenie" are modeled after their respective voice actors, a practice that is common in animated films. The actors imitated the motions of the puppets while delivering their lines to provide their performances with some emotional context.
Members of the audience who have not viewed a stop-motion animated film recently will be amazed at the depth and quality that is now possible with this technique. Burton's legendary attention to visual details is also fully apparent in this film. The use of light and shadow to show the contrasting moods of comedy and horror is particularly effective.
Editors Mark Solomon and Chris Lebenzon integrate the dream sequences and flashbacks seamlessly into the main plot of the film, and cinematographer Peter Sorg uses dolly and crane shots to add drams to many of the scenes. Slow pans also make the scenes more lifelike. Veteran film composer Danny Elfman provides a musical score that flows superbly well throughout the film and advances the narrative.
The fast-pace and slapstick humor of "Frankenweenie" will appeal to children. Adults will enjoy identifying the many references to other films and the primary theme of science gone awry. The secondary themes in this film include support for under-appreciated teachers and science education.