Frankenweenie is frankenweird. But that should come as no surprise to fans (and detractors) of the brilliantly bizarre director Tim Burton (Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland, Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride, Beetlejuice, etc.) It is, after all, a film about a boy and his dead dog. Okay, perhaps I should say a boy and his re-animated dog. Either way, it’s doggone strange. And yet…
As in many Tim Burton films, there is something eerily absorbing and uniquely satisfying about Frankenweenie. The characters are kooky yet relatable in a “Leave it to Beaver” meets “The Munsters” sort of way. The premise may be preposterous, but the inherent messages are timeless and timely.
The story centers around a smart young boy named Victor Frankenstein who likes to make homemade monster movies starring a mix of toys, puppets, and his faithful dog (and best friend) Sparky. When Sparky is hit by a car and killed, Victor is inconsolable. But when a new science teacher (voiced by Martin Landau) inspires Victor to experiment with electricity, the boy-genius figures out how to spark ol’ Sparky back to life.
As the hilariously eccentric teacher warns, “Science is not good or bad, but can be used both ways. That’s why you have to be careful.” Victor is. But his misguided schoolmates are not. They attempt to replicate Victor’s experiment – with much more monstrous consequences.
Frankenweenie is based on a 30-minute live-action short that Tim Burton made in 1984 (I watched it on YouTube – and sure enough, it’s also weird). The new version is expanded to 87 (rather long) minutes and employs the visually stunning stop-motion animation technique, which makes it far more humanistic than cartoonish. It’s also all in black and white; so don’t attempt to adjust your sets – or your overpriced and totally unnecessary 3D glasses.
Frankenweenie pays homage to the black and white monster movies of the past, including but not limited to Frankenstein and Godzilla. And while it is often sweet and funny, it’s not a good movie for the wee ones or sensitive types who are easily scared or saddened. (confession time: I teared up whenever Victor did). It is, however, perfect for youngsters – and oldsters – who like making or watching horror movies, conducting gross science experiments, or laughing their butts off at the antics of Tom & Jerry or Ren & Stimpy. And of course, for Tim Burton fans who, quite frankly, don’t care if the movie is weird. It’s the Tim Burton way.