I really expected to hate Frankenweenie. Tim Burton’s idea generator is so bankrupt that he’s taken to remaking his own 1984 live action short as a full-length stop motion animated film. It just sounded horrible. It’s not though, it’s pretty sweet and looks great and doesn’t suck. So…nicely done, Tim! The biggest surprise in Frankenweenie is not that it’s 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 it’s 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 Sparky’s life is brought to an untimely end by a car, Victor just can’t 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.
It’s the relationship between the boy and his dog that keeps the movie interesting. It’s not the weird characters, strange look, or oddball plot that involves other kids reanimating other animals to negative consequences. That all helps with the “horror homage” vibe, but it’s 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 O’Hara) present a caring counterpoint to the rest of the weirdo town.
It’s that weirdo town where the movie sags. Yeah, everyone has skinny legs and although it’s suburbia, there is something sort-of creepy lurking beneath the surface. You should know what I’m talking about, as this is the typical Tim Burton thing. But, it’s old hat and not well-developed, here. Victor’s teacher and classmates get short shrift but play key parts in the plot, so there is a lot of “why is the fat kid doing that?” and “why does the kid who looks like Frankenstein’s monster want to win the science fair so badly?” Nothing really clicks with these characters.
The stop motion look is fantastic, so if you’re 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 doesn’t work quite as well as the touching relationship, but it’s 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 didn’t grow up watching Christopher Lee as Dracula.
It’s not the best stop motion scary movie, and not even the best most recent scary flick—that ParaNorman, which beats this by a wide margin. Still, it’s 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 don’t get the “here it comes” 3D fun, but it’s the best way to watch a movie that has its overall look as one of the stronger points.
Burton doesn’t 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 it’s fun to recognize that when it happens. Also, it’s 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 “Miniatures in Motion.” It’s really great. If you want to know how to make a stop motion film, this segment shows that it’s 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. It’s really enjoyable to watch as it doesn’t 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 “Captain Sparky and the Flying Saucers” that is in the same vein. I actually wished there was a whole series of these Captain Sparky movies where you could see Victor’s hand holding the army men figures or the wires for the flying saucers, it’s such good fun.
The final extras are a terrible music video of some song that isn’t 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 don’t already have it from earlier Tim Burton DVDs, and the behind-the-scenes featurette. Definitely worth checking out.
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