The story of a boy and his dog is one of the simplest that can be told. It centres on love and friendship, and demonstrates a loyalty rarely found elsewhere in life. Frankenweenie
is Tim Burton's take on this tale. Combined with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
, it's a little darker than the typical telling but still touching.
Victor is a very creative boy. He makes stop-motion movies (a nice touch) and conducts science experiments in his spare time instead of playing sports or hanging out with friends. Much to his father's dismay, he prefers to spend time with his best friend: his dog, Sparky. But when Sparky dies, Victor modifies one of his science teacher's classroom demonstrations to bring him back to life. However, trying to keep his success a secret proves difficult. When some of the other children attempt to duplicate Victor's experiment for the science fair, the results are disastrous and only the original junior scientist can reverse their blunders.
is based on a 1984 short film by Burton that was expanded into a feature by his oft co-conspirator, John August. Keeping the story uncomplicated, they avoid adding too many subplots and retain focus on the main story. This allows for excellent character development and well explored arcs, as opposed to multiple thin narratives that tend to feel incomplete.
In a classroom filled with strange children, Burton once again gives the weird kids a place to belong. Science is not the enemy in this film; it's a means with no good or bad except that which is applied by the user. Victor nobly uses his knowledge and love to revive his dog. His classmates' less noble intentions create equally unfavourable results. The science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, is a Vincent Price-type character portrayed perfectly by Martin Landau. He is both a little scary but quite brilliant, and acts as a catalyst for what happens in the narrative.
While the film is not particularly scary, it is upsetting. Death is front and centre in many scenes, and they don't pull any punches. The pet cemetery is a key and reappearing location. And one of the chief aspects required to bring something back to life is a dead body, so grave robbing becomes child play in the picture. This could lead to some interesting conversations post-screening with younger audience members.
The monstrous creations each pay homage to a movie monster equivalent, including the Mummy, Dracula, Godzilla, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and werewolves. Many scenes are adapted directly from the Frankenstein legend, including the iconic closing scene at the windmill. The tribute to the good doctor's hunchback assistant via Edgar E. Gore is a scene stealer with his creepy cunning and desperation. The fantasy is absolute down to the most minor detail. The sets are meticulous and the stop-motion flawless. The voice cast is a collection of past collaborators, including Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder and Landau.
This film is a complete package that maintains a good pace and tells a captivating story through stunning black and white animation.
Director: Tim Burton
(voices of) Winona Ryder
, Catherine O'Hara
and Martin Short