Though it could be seen as “just another” spooky animated feature to add to the collection of films that have come out this year, Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie rises to the top as a unique and quirky contender in the animated box office battle.
I haven’t been thrilled with Burton’s recent directorial attempts. Dark Shadows was a bit of a flop, and even before that, Sweeney Todd and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were somewhat poorly received. In all honesty, the quirkiness was losing its appeal, and was becoming stale, especially with the recycling of actors in what seemed like the same character roles (i.e., Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter). Perhaps, however, this revisiting of one of his earliest works provided a fresh perspective that Burton desperately needed.
The success of Frankeweenie is three-fold: stunningly simplistic visuals, exceptional voice talent, and a truly original story. Each of these components complements each other, and the result is extraordinary.
The plot follows Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan), a young boy who lives in the quaint town of New Holland, and the love he has for his dog, Sparky. Their relationship is one that doesn’t come along more than once in a lifetime, so when Sparky dies, so does a part of Victor’s spirit. His scientific mind is piqued when his new science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau), unknowingly introduces the idea of regeneration, when he uses electricity to move the muscles of a dead frog.
New Holland’s perpetual lightning storms make the town the perfect environment for Victor’s experiment. He gathers his supplies, and rushes to the town’s pet cemetery, where he unearths the body of his dear Sparky. He sets his experiment in motion, and waits for the lightning storm to begin. At first, he thinks that he has failed Sparky, but soon the wag of a tail and familiar lick bring a smile to Victor’s face. Sparky is alive!
Keeping his experiment a secret is difficult, especially with the Frankenstein’s nosy neighbors, and Sparky’s eagerness to venture out of his attic hiding place. Soon, Victor is forced to share his secret with his rather odd and unfortunate looking classmate, Edgar Gore (E. Gore, for those of you who needed me to help you make that connection). Edgar (Atticus Shaffer) doesn’t quite understand the implications of such an experiment, and when he spills the secret to Toshiaki (James Hiroyuki Liao), Nassor (Martin Short), and the Weird Girl (Catherine O’Hara), the town becomes subject to some horrifying happenings.
The story itself is fantastic, and as I pointed out earlier, is framed wonderfully by the voice talent. Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short each take on several characters (without too many similarities to be distracting). The supporting characters are spot on, especially Martin Landau as the frightening science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, and Atticus Shaffer (Brick Heck of ABC’s The Middle.) as Edgar.
Of course, all is complemented by the stop-motion, black and white animation. The simplicity of the animation allows the layers of the story to become more prevalent. Surprisingly, the 3D was not distracting (something I often complain about), and complemented some of the more action-packed sequences.
Overall, I loved this movie. I think that it is actually scarier and more entertaining than many of the live-action scary movies that have come out in the last few years. For that, I’m going to recommend that parents of young children think twice before taking their five year old to this movie. At the screening I attended, at least six families left in the middle of the movie, due to some pretty scary instances.
Still, for me, and other kids at heart, this movie is just a reminder as to why Halloween is one of the best times of the year. And for now, Tim Burton has slightly redeemed his cool factor in my book.
Frankenweenie – 8/10