Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: John August
Starring: Charlie Tahan, Frank Welker, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Atticus Shaffer
Walt Disney Pictures
Rated PG | 87 Minutes
Release Date: October 5, 2012
“I don’t want to be buried in a Pet Sematary, I don’t want to live my life again.” – The Ramones
From director Tim Burton (Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands) comes Frankenweenie, an eerie, albeit heartwarming tale about a boy and his dog.
Based off Burton’s own 1984 live-action short film (which starred Daniel Stern and Shelley Duvall), Frankenweenie is a gothic, black-and-white love letter to Universal Studio’s classic horror pictures, including James Whale’s 1931 film, Frankenstein.
After unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky, young Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) harnesses the blasphemous power of science to bring his best friend back to life. A few bolts of lightning later, Sparky’s his old self again – with a few modifications, of course. Sparky’s a patchwork of skin and stitches now, complete with those iconic Boris Karloff bolts in his neck.
Victor tries to hide his home-sewn creation, but when Sparky gets loose, Victor’s fellow students attempt to unlock the secrets of Sparky’s reanimation and use the same technology for their science projects. Victor’s classmates head over to the town’s pet cemetery and start digging up test subjects for their mischievous experiments. Soon the peaceful town of New Holland is under attack by twisted perversions of science, causing the townspeople to pick up their torches and pitchforks and drive the monsters away.
Only Tim Burton, who’s hit-or-miss (but-mostly-miss lately), could release one of the most disappointing films of his career (Dark Shadows) and one of his finest in the same year. Frankenweenie is a return to the Burton of the ’80s and ’90s – a beautifully twisted tale with huge laughs and a big heart in the vein of Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands.
Of course, Burton’s 1984 30-minute Frankenweenie was one of his first films (behind 1982’s stop-motion short, Vincent), so it’s no surprise that he put a lot of heart and energy in realizing it as a feature-length stop-motion film. Frankenweenie includes all-star cast of voice actors including Martin Short, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, and Martin Landau, but it’s really Charlie Tahan’s Victor Frankenstein who steals the show. Much like ParaNorman‘s Kodi Smit-McPhee, Tahan portrays an entirely likable and relatable boy who lives in a world all of his own – a world of macabre and monsters.
Those familiar with Burton’s entire body of work might also notice the similarities between Sparky and Brad Bird’s 1993 television series, Family Dog, which first appeared as an episode of Amazing Stories in 1987. Bird’s short-lived series was produced by both Steven Spielberg and Tim Burton, who was involved in contributing the story’s production and character designs.
2012’s Frankenweenie is an amalgam of Burton’s previous work, which is probably why it feels more inspired than his rehashing of other people’s work: Dark Shadows, Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Planet of Apes – the list goes on.
Frankenweenie is a gorgeous black-and-white animated movie that will both scare and delight children while simultaneously introducing them to the concept of death and the inevitability of losing those you love most. It’s Pet Sematary Jr., and like this year’s other spooky stop-motion effort, ParaNorman, is a great primer for kids destined to grow up obsessed with zombies, ghouls, and ghostly phantoms.