I really expected to hate Frankenweenie. Tim Burtonís idea generator is so bankrupt that heís taken to remaking his own 1984 live action short as a full-length stop motion animated film. It just sounded horrible. Itís not though, itís pretty sweet and looks great and doesnít suck. SoÖnicely done, Tim!
The biggest surprise in Frankenweenie is not that itís a decent horror homage. I guess you would figure a guy like Tim Burton could get that right and he does. Another surprise is that itís a very sentimental story about a boy and his best friend. In this case the boy is Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tehan), a loner with a gift for science and experiments, and his best friend is Sparky, a dog. When Sparkyís life is brought to an untimely end by a car, Victor just canít let go. So, after his science teacher (who is dead ringer for Vincent Price but is voiced by Martin Landau) show him that electric jolts can make dead limbs move, Victor decides to dig up Sparky and get cracking.
Itís the relationship between the boy and his dog that keeps the movie interesting. Itís not the weird characters, strange look, or oddball plot that involves other kids reanimating other animals to negative consequences. That all helps with the ďhorror homageĒ vibe, but itís really that Victor is likeable and the tears in his stop motion eyes are, well, touching. Also, his parents, Ben (Martin Short) and Sarah (Catherine OíHara) present a caring counterpoint to the rest of the weirdo town.
Itís that weirdo town where the movie sags. Yeah, everyone has skinny legs and although itís suburbia, there is something sort-of creepy lurking beneath the surface. You should know what Iím talking about, as this is the typical Tim Burton thing. But, itís old hat and not well-developed, here. Victorís teacher and classmates get short shrift but play key parts in the plot, so there is a lot of ďwhy is the fat kid doing that?Ē and ďwhy does the kid who looks like Frankensteinís monster want to win the science fair so badly?Ē Nothing really clicks with these characters.
The stop motion look is fantastic, so if youíre just up for black and white, kid-friendlybut scary looking, detail rich puppets, then you are in luck. Burton had a crackerjack team making Victor, Sparky, and the rest look amazing and putting the right tone on the monster movie feel. Again, it doesnít work quite as well as the touching relationship, but itís good for a few laughs, and if you are a horror movie buff you probably get a lot more out of it then someone who didnít grow up watching Christopher Lee as Dracula.
Itís not the best stop motion scary movie, and not even the best most recent scary flickóthat ParaNorman, which beats this by a wide margin. Still, itís nice that Burton can get it at least half-right sometimes.
The Blu-ray for Frankenweenie is being released in a few versions, including 3D. Unfortunately, you need a 3D Blu-ray player to watch it and who has that? Not me or you either, probably. Still, the old 2D version looks great, with rich HD picture that brings out the detail. You donít get the ďhere it comesĒ 3D fun, but itís the best way to watch a movie that has its overall look as one of the stronger points.
Burton doesnít provide a commentary, but he does include the original 30-minute Frankenweenie live action short. This is what made his name as a director back in 1984, and while you might not be able to see why, it does make for an interesting companion to the new film. Some shots are directly copied in the new movie and itís fun to recognize that when it happens. Also, itís interesting to see what was added to get the movie from 30 to 87 minutes. Most of it is the weirdo classmates , who, as I mentioned prior, are the weakest part of the new movie.
There is also a 30-minute making of featurette called ďMiniatures in Motion.Ē Itís really great. If you want to know how to make a stop motion film, this segment shows that itís a buttload of meticulous work. They show it all. Not super in-depth, but it does show how they make the puppets, the sets, everything. Itís really enjoyable to watch as it doesnít take a film school degree to understand it, but it does give you a sense of the artistry and effort involved.
The beginning of both versions of Frankenweenie show a monster movie that Victor makes with Sparky as the star. It perfectly captures young kid filmmaking in all of its glory, including bad special effects. The Blu-ray includes a 2- minute short called ďCaptain Sparky and the Flying SaucersĒ that is in the same vein. I actually wished there was a whole series of these Captain Sparky movies where you could see Victorís hand holding the army men figures or the wires for the flying saucers, itís such good fun.
The final extras are a terrible music video of some song that isnít actually in the movie and a brief video showing the art of the movie that was taken on tour to promote the theatrical release. Besides the last few, Frankenweenie offers a nice set of extras and fans will like the original live-action movie, if they donít already have it from earlier Tim Burton DVDs, and the behind-the-scenes featurette. Definitely worth checking out.
Reviewed By: Ed Perkis