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Frankenweenie Review: OMG, I Love Tim Burton Again

By Agent Bedhead | Film Reviews | October 6, 2012 | Comments ()


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Over the past month or so, we've already witnessed a few kid-oriented animation flicks -- Paranorman and Hotel Transylvania -- that have paid homage to the creature features of decades past. As luck would have it, a third contender has arrived and quite easily shoos the other two away. Now I know what you're thinking. Tim Burton has really lost his spark over the past few years, but he's gotten it back, thanks to his tale of a boy and his dog named Sparky. The story arrives in the form of a stop-action animated film that revels within its various shades of black and white and comes with optional (superfluous) 3-D as well. The movie itself feels miles away from the ill-advised Alice in Wonderland and Dark Shadows shades of hell that Burton fell into most recently when his Depp-reliant shtick was beginning to feel tired at best. Finally as well, Burton isn't adapting someone else's tale here but is once again working again with his own ideas (even if the story itself is obviously a Frankenstein knockoff).

Frankenweenie is, of course, a remake of Burton's own 1984 (live-action) short film (available at YouTube or as a special feature on the Nightmare Before Christmas DVD) by the same name. Does the feature-length film succeed as a remake? Very much so, and it's much like the original except that it's been fleshed out quite a bit and looks a lot sharper too, which is only to be expected from 2012-type technology. This time, Burton goes with black and white again, which is just perfect here in its stunning, monochrome execution. In this update, Burton (along with screenwriter John August) has added a brand new second act that includes several new characters (and requisite motives), which makes things feel a little bit cluttered compared to the original, but it's not too much to bear. This isn't a perfect unabridged version of the original story, but it's still filled with all sort of heart, and Frankenweenie is such a bittersweet experience that even a decrepit, non-feeling type like myself isn't afraid to admit to shedding a tear (or three) during certain moments.

Frankenweenie follows a typical Burton protagonist, a young outcast boy called Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan), whose dog named Sparky (Frank Welker, uncredited) is his very best friend and stars in his master's homemade monster movies. Unfortunately, Sparky meets an untimely demise early on in the film, but alas, the sadness does not last for long because Victor figures out how to use electricity to bring his dog back from the dead, This is a great turn of events except that Victor then has to figure out how to keep everyone from finding out about the sweet, well-mannered, yet slightly stupid dog who refuses to keep himself a secret. Soon, Victor's bizarre yet charmed life with his parents (Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short) is thrown into massive disarray thanks to meddling neighbors and two terrible classmates, Edgar "E" Gore (Atticus Shaffer) and Weird Girl (O'Hara again), who decide to try and replicate Victor's scientific method. All the while, the mayor's niece, Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder), is Victor's only human kindred spirit who helps him navigate all of the obstacles that would threaten the newly resurrected Sparky.

Oddly enough, a lot of this extra material in the new story takes away from the main focus of Victor and his dog; so if there's anything wrong with this film at all, it would be the space-filling moments spent on characters other than Sparky in favor of other creatures (including some, um, reanimated Sea Monkeys) that are plenty entertaining, but they're not the all-important doggie. Again, this is a minor distraction compared to the whole.

Most kids (except the youngest tots) should not be frightened by this movie if they like spooky, Halloweenish things in general. It's a cute film that restores the Burton combination of quirky and macabre (with characters who visually and thematically feel right at home in Burton's collective house of weirdos) without delving into levels of obnoxiousness. Frankenweenie is downright lovable even for a movie about a dying pet, and (for fans of the original) rest assured that the little Bride of Frankenstein allusion is still there too. Overall, the experience of watching this film conjures up sheer joy mixed with mild melancholy. In Frankenweenie, Burton has not only resurrected man's best friend, but he's also brought many aspects of his former works back to life. Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Nightmare Before Christmas, and The Corpse Bride are all very much alive in this movie. In short, Burton has resurrected his career.

Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.


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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not


  • Jezzer

    I really, really don't get all the hatred for Alice in Wonderland. It's certainly not his best film, but it's definitely not his worst. I think it just came out at a time that we as a nation were suffering from Chronic Johnny Depp Fatigue and needed a break.

  • Snath

    My kids were only scared during one part of the film.

    *SPOILER*

    When Mr. Whiskers gets all batty, my daughter actually turned around in her seat because she didn't want to watch it. My son was most scared of Edgar's rat.

  • TheOriginalMRod

    YAY! Just yay...

  • Ginger

    Saw it last night and it was fantastic. This review is on point. Sums up my feelings perfectly.

  • KZoeT

    I thought it was very well done. The nods to classic horror were fun and I loved the addition of Victor's classmates (and the cat). It was more charming than spooky, I think, and that was a bit of a disappointment. Still loved it and rank it as one of Burton's best.

  • emmelemm

    Even if the dog is only BRIEFLY dead, it might still be too much for me.

  • Idle Primate

    i keep trying to summon up some enthusiasm to go see this. its a burton thing. i loved paranorman, i'm excited to see hotel transylvania even if it is being panned. it's october, i'm all about anything spooky/monsters/horror. and yet I don't know if i will get around to seeing this on the big screen. It's been a really long time since i enjoyed or forked over for a Burton film, though i love his earlier movies. maybe i just need to read some more positive reviews, but retreading his youthful films doesn't inspire confidence in me that he has got his stuff back

  • Tinkerville

    I'm sorry to say that I disagreed. I didn't hate it but I didn't love it.. overall it was pretty forgettable for me but did have some great moments that were very classic Burton.

  • Mr_Zito

    Man, I've been mixing up these three movies for months, I just now realized that Frankenweenie, Hotel Transylvania and Paranormal are three different things.

  • stardust

    I'm really glad to hear that this Frankenweenie is decent. The short blew me away the first time I saw it. Tim Burton has been such a disappointment lately, which is sad because I LOVE him, so I'm happy this was enjoyable. I can't wait to watch it with my daughter.

  • bbmcrae

    Tim Burton has really lost his spark over the past few years..."

    Few = 10?

  • Natallica

    I wouldn't say 10. "Big fish" and "Corpse bride", though not as brilliant as his previous works, are fairly good films. I would say he started to dive into Suck Land five years ago, with "Sweeney Todd".

  • Reginald

    Sweeny Todd is a great movie, it is definitely Burton's last movie that was really good.

  • PDamian

    I loved Sweeney Todd, but then again, I approached it as a Sondheim musical, not a Burton film. Sasha Baron Cohen and Alan Rickman were particularly good, and Johnny Depp was a little less grating than usual. Good singing voice, too.

  • Idle Primate

    Big Fish is a tremendous film, and corpse bride is watchable, plus it has some good musical numbers, but it has been mostly a desert for quite some time. After Ed Wood (a gem) there is just those two movies and maybe mars Attacks if you are in the mood. so depending on how you look at it 9-18 years.

  • Natallica

    I'm still pissed "Charlie and the chocolate factory" was that bad. I really had high hopes for that. The only saving grace was Freddie Highmore and David Kelly combined uber cuteness. Besides, the first time I saw it I had smoked weed and the Oompa Loompa song scared the shit out of me

  • Idle Primate

    most movies, especially anything off kilter scare me if i have smoked weed. ironically, not horror movies tho.

  • psemophile

    Reanimated. Sea. Monkeys.
    I can't wait for this film to release in my p.o.s country.

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