Before he hit the big time, director Tim Burton made a live-action short film named “Frankenweenie” which was a loving tribute to the classic horror films of old, in particular “Frankenstein”. Due to various issues, the 30-minute film never got the attention it deserved and was relegated to a video release after Burton’s stock had risen thanks to hits such as “Beetlejuice”, “Batman”, and “Edward Scissorhands”.
Disney has given Burton a chance to complete his vision for “Frankenweenie”, and Burton has done so by combining the visual themes of classic black and white with modern 3D and stop-motion animation.
The film centers around the town of New Holland, where young Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) lives in suburbia and spends his days, when not in school, on his love of science, and his beloved dog Sparky. His father, wants Victor to diversify his skills and agrees to allow Victor to take part in a local science fair if he agrees to play baseball as well. Victor agrees, but sadly tragedy strikes when Victor loses his beloved Sparky in an accident.
Devastated, Victor loses his will and his way until he is inspired by his science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau) who explains how anything can be reanimated via electricity. Since their town is famous for its nightly lightening storms, Victor sets about to revive Sparky, and is able to do so much to his delight. While he is thrilled to have his beloved dog back, Victor must keep Sparky’s return a secret which proves to be a very difficult challenge.
In time, the secret gets out and chaos ensues, especially when Victor’s classmates decide to reanimate other dead objects so that they can compete at the science fair. Things quickly go amok, and Victor and Sparky must find a way to save New Holland and each other.
The film has the trademark Burton visuals which are indeed very lavish. The nature of stop-motion and 3D does at times have some jerkiness to the film, but all in all it is a rich visual experience. I am a fan of Burton, but I have always said he far to often puts substance over style as his visuals have often overshadowed plot and characters in his movies. This time out, Burton has kept the film basic and does not go overboard trying to over-complicate his plot and characters. The film is, at the core, a story about a boy and his dog and their enduring love for one another.
The film is loaded with quirky characters and visuals and several references to the classic horror films of old which inspired it. I was not sure that many of the younger viewers in the audience would be able to get several of the jokes in the film, but they, along with their parents, laughed and cheered throughout the film.
While it will not break any new ground in visuals and story, “Frankenweenie” is a pleasantly fun film that the family will enjoy and is well worth checking out.
4 stars out of 5.