Tim Burton was my first favorite director. I remember seeing Beetlejuice in the theater as a child and distinctly remember being blown away by it. As his career went on and his films began to lessen in quality I found myself becoming a Burton apologist and fruitlessly defending even his most mediocre work. Except for Planet of the Apes, of which i couldn’t. There is no apologizing necessary for Frankenweenie as it’s a good film that borders on greatness on occasion.
Burton directed a short live action film of the same name way back in 1984 and it’s a wonderful little film that is filled with clever moments that show what a creative director he would go on to become. You can find it on the The Nightmare Before Christmas DVD if you want to check it out. When I heard he was doing a remake of it I was against it. Not only am I sick of him doing remakes, but a remake of his own work! That is crossing a line, I think, and I vowed that I would not see it. But as the release date approached the Burton fan in me could not help but hand over his ten dollars and see how he would flesh the story out into a feature film.
Frankenweenie is about young Victor Frankstein (Charlie Tahan) and his spirited dog, Sparky. Victor is very much into science and spends all day up in the attic either doing experiments or making short films starring Sparky. His parents (Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short) love their quiet little son, but encourage him to try playing baseball and interacting with other kids his age. This leads to the tragic early death of Sparky. A couple days later while in school Victor’s teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau channeling Vincent Price) shows the class how electricity can make a dead frog’s legs move. Victor is inspired. He digs up Sparky’s body and brings him back to life.
Edgar ‘E’ Gore (Atticus Shaffer), a slimy classmate, finds out about it and tells all the other kids. Soon they are all bringing their dead pets back to life. However, their pets are not quite as lovable as Sparky and are soon running amok around town. From here it’s up to Victor and the other kids to find a way to stop it.
This film is brimming with homage and reference to classic horror films. The next door neighbor’s dog gets electrocuted by Sparky and ends up looking like the Bride of Frankenstein, one kids turtle turns into one giant Gamera reference and Invisible Man, The Mummy and Wolfman are referenced too. There is even a scene where Victor’s parents are watching Christopher Lee’s Dracula on TV. All this stuff is going to go way over most kids heads. There were many moments when I heard all the adults in the theater laughing and none of the kids.
In fact this is about the least “for kids” kids film I’ve ever seen. It’s black and white, it has a slow horror film style build up. It’s super sad at times and kind of scary at times too. It’s not full of prat falls and clever one liners to keep the kids laughing from beginning to end and it’s not shiny and sparkly to hypnotize their little eyes.
But all that aside, it is a pretty great film, and the best film Burton has made in a long time. I was starting to lose faith in Burton, I was worried that the director I once thought could do no wrong was gone completely. Frankenweenie has shown me that there is still some inspiration in him and there is potential in there for him to bring us amazing films once again.
Director: Tim Burton Notable Cast: Charlie Tahan, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Landau and Winona Ryder Writer:John August based off the Tim Burton short film of the same name
Mike Noyes received his Masters Degree in Film from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. A few of his short films can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/user/mikebnoyes. He reads tons of comics, watches even more movies and spends the rest of his free time writing.
He also co-wrote and directed the web series Confessions of a Superhero. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCXeQnxi4V7h01va0V50R1IQ