Summer is here. The time has arrived for film buffs to catch up on films they may have overlooked in recent months. Put Frankenweenie on that list, an overlooked Tim Burton feature with funkiness and flaws a plenty. Let’s dig up my review of Frankenweenie on Blu-ray in this edition of Disney In Depth.
The dog, man’s best friend. They possess the ceaseless loyalty, friendship and empathy that most humans only wish they could have. No wonder why the loss of a dog can bring about such sadness. Burton infuses immense passion and consideration into this pet project of his, finally adapted into this full-length, entirely stop-motion feature.
They make movies together and play in the yard. Victor and Sparky represent the pinnacle boy-dog pairing. But Victor’s undying love for his furry buddy Sparky leads him to resurrect the deceased doggie after the canine’s untimely passing. The boy takes his science class lessons to another level, and more properly, to another state. From dead to alive, Sparky’s resurgence electrifies the stuck-in-another-era town of New Holland to total chaos – especially when other kids take Victor’s idea and revive their pets. Turmoil erupts in the town, and equally as much in this muddled movie.
You know a movie is odd when the most fascinating character is a fluffy white cat named Mr. Whiskers, who can apparently foresee the future by “shaping” letters with its excrement. Yeah, that’s the Tim Burton touch, for sure. Victor is a weak protagonist who seems more flat and stitched-together than Sparky, the most endearing character in the film. A movie’s personalities can either make or break the feature. The lack of memorable and likeable characters – save for Sparky, Whiskers, and perhaps even Edgar, the odd hunchback-like kid – may determine Frankenweenie‘s fate in our memories. A short and misguided one, sadly.
Frankenweenie brings up valid questions about “playing god” and how to approach the repercussions of death. This can serve as an important teaching tool for parents in raising discussions on this topic with their children. As a viewer I appreciate the morals raised in how individuals can manipulate science for both good and bad reasons, and the film pays homage to the days of influential teachers changing the norm representing threats. Good topics. Commendable implementation. “Sometimes knowing too much is the problem,” the gym teacher chants. But we all know that ignorance can serve as the greatest evil.
Unfortunately, Frankenweenie is clouded by stereotypes as intentionally-old as this film looks. Two of the child characters, one Japanese and another Russian, are portrayed as if they were captured in a 1950s-set “beware these threats” advertisement once played in movie theatres. Why the filmmakers chose to include personalities with these long-buried labels, and in villainous capacities, I do not know. But these characters, as important as they are in furthering the story development and eventually the chaotic climax, could have lacked the regrettable stereotypes. I praise diversity, but not at the cost of reminding viewers of racism for no logical reason.
At times Frankenweenie feels like a television show stretched to film length, in that the storyline lends itself to more of a holiday special format than an 87-minute movie. Scenes drag on and there appears more filler than necessary moments to advance the story forward. I would not call the film boring, but by no means would I describe it as enthralling either.
I wanted to love Frankenweenie, for its visual style, outside-the-box framework and occasional risky and genius storytelling devices defying tradition. We must embrace differences, and Burton fits that bill. Yet the many problems that plague Frankenweenie more likely make it a movie that film classes will analyze for its creative design than families will watch for its entertainment value.
“Original Short: Captain Sparky vs. The Flying Saucers” models the Pixar method of utilizing characters from the feature in a new short. Using Victor’s love for moviemaking as the basis of this short within a short, Sparky heads to space. Mr. Whiskers cast as an evil Martian commander, a clever touch. But at just around two minutes, its brevity and incomplete feeling lead one to wonder why this was developed. This would have been more fulfilling if expanded, since the witty foundation holds strength.
“Miniatures In Motion: Bringing Frankenweenie To Life” captures the process of turning Frankenweenie from a live-action short into the stop-motion movie we know today. One must only respect the animators and crew who demonstrated extreme craftsmanship in shaping these detailed characters and sets. Their love for this project, and truly constructing the movie every centimeter along the way, is palpable. I appreciate the finished product much more after watching this featurette, even if it remains limited to the creative and technical aspects. At 23 minutes, this extra masterfully encapsulates all of the intricacies in an accessible and intriguing fashion.
“Frankenweenie Touring Exhibit” takes viewers on a tour of this traveling exhibition, showcased at expositions including San Diego Comic-Con 2012. This represents a solid bonus that expands on the neat miniature items and set pieces explored earlier in the “motion” featurette.
“Original Live-Action Frankenweenie Short” shows the half-hour 1984 short in its black-and-white glory, a much more solid and engrossing work than the stop-motion adaptation. Comparing the two is a fun game in itself, especially to see how closely Burton modeled the 2012 version to the original – at least within the first and last several minutes. This live-action take lacks all the filler and unnecessary harshness found in the stop-motion release. I found the 1984 short more charming, humorous and lighthearted. This helps prove that a more contained and simpler product can sometimes outweigh a pricier, lengthier and more outlandish alternative.
“Plain White T’s “˜Pet Sematary’ Music Video” shows the band that brought you “Hey There Delilah” playing a rock song found on the Frankenweenie soundtrack. Generic.
Frankenweenie stuns in its brilliant visual and aural execution. The stylistic choices made by Burton and team work to give Frankenweenie flavor. The black-and-white presentation could not look more vivid, and intentionally dirty when necessary. Danny Elfman‘s signature moody, quirky orchestral work offers just the right amount of eeriness and excitement according to the scene. This near-flawless transfer of Frankenweenie meets Disney’s high standards in delivering A-quality Blu-ray animated films.
Film: C+ Bonus Features: B- Presentation: A
Overall Grade: B-
Frankenweenie has its heart in the right place, but its brain feels more buried in story development than anything. Burton’s underdog story of finally developing the film of his dreams is one to root for. Unfortunately that does not extend to the film’s all-over-the-place plot. For the devoted Tim Burton fan who can overlook flaws, Frankenweenie will be worth a purchase due to its grim atmospheric delight. For everyone else, skip past the pet cemetery.
Check out my additional thoughts on Frankenweenie, regarding how it performed at the box office, in this earlier edition of Disney In Depth.
This is Brett Nachman, signing off. Follow me on Twitter for alerts of new editions of Disney In Depth, Thursdays on Geeks of Doom.