Saturday, October 12, 2013

Frankenweenie – review

Director: Tim Burton

Release date: 2012

Contains spoilers

I have to admit that I had avoided Frankenweenie. Tim Burton had been a firm favourite director (and I still rate Ed Wood and Big Fish as two of the most marvellous films out there) but I have felt that later movies were somewhat off the boil. More so, however, was that I have the original live action Frankenweenie on DVD as an extra on The Nightmare Before Christmas and – to be frank – wondered what the point of the remake was without actually investigating it.

Giant sea monkeys
Then I heard that the film, which is an animation, included a vampire cat and it went straight on to the radar. I watched the film expecting to write an Honourable Mention for a fleeting visitation but found that what started as a poignant tale of a boy, his dog and not letting a little thing like death get in the way morphed into a full on Monster Mash and this deserved a full on review. It certainly shows a love for the Monster Movies of yore.

Weird Girl and Mr Whiskers 
Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan, I am Legend) is a young boy, living in the quiet town New Holland. His best friend is his dog Sparky, though Dad (Martin Short) worries that he has no human friends. When a (suspiciously Vincent Price looking) Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau, Ed Wood) becomes science teacher at school Vincent finds his interest piqued, though Weird Girl (Catherine O'Hara, the Nightmare Before Christmas) has warned him that her cat (Mr Whislers) has dreamt of him and left a V shaped poo (which she shows him). She says that whenever he dreams of someone it means a significant event – for good or bad.

retrieving Sparky
Mr. Rzykruski has announced a science fair and Edgar 'E' Gore (Atticus Shaffer) wants to partner Victor – but Victor works alone. Victor asks for his Science Fair permission slip to be signed but a compromise is suggested by his dad; the permission slip can be signed if Victor also takes up a sport. However, at the baseball field, disaster strikes. Victor knocks the ball out of the park but Sparky chases after it, retrieves it but is knocked down. Sparky ends up buried in the pet cemetery. After a science lesson shows a frog’s galvanic reaction, Victor has an idea, digs up Sparky and reanimates his dead dog during a lightning storm.

gerbil mummy
Following this, Edgar discovers Victor's secret and forces the young Frankenstein to repeat the experiment on a fish – the fish reanimates but is invisible. They don't know why it went wrong (Sparky was reanimated as much with love as with electricity it is later revealed) so, when the other kids in the town discover the secret, we get a series of ill-fated reanimations. Sea monkeys are turned into giant sea monkeys (they kind of fill the Creature from the Black Lagoon role but also act a little like the Gremlins), a hamster becomes the Mummy, a tortoise becomes a Gamera equivalent and a rat is kind of the wolfman.

Mr Whisker's transformed
Mr Whiskers brings back a bat that Weird Girl tries to reanimate but the lightning strikes whilst Mr Whiskers is holding the bat in his mouth. There is a merging of the two and Mr Whiskers becomes the fanged, bat winged vampire cat. This proves the most dogged (if you pardon the oxymoron) of the monsters and is there at the climax of the film – that takes place in a burning windmill.

Dracula, Prince of Darkness
There is no doubt that Tim Burton knows his monster movies and the pastiche works as a concept. Through the poodle next door we even get a bride of Frankenstein, with the outrageous mallen streaks caused by a wet nose on Sparky’s neck bolt. We even get a bit of Dracula Prince of Darkness on the TV, the technicolour lost because the movie we are watching is black and white, as befits a tribute to the monster movies of yore. All that said it felt disjointed.

The first section was pretty much “the boy, dog, death will be overcome” of the original short though more characters are introduced than the original, as they weren’t necessary in the original. However the film abandons this as it morphs into the Monster Mash. This makes it feel like a film of two parts and whilst we needed the set up lifted from the original, I felt that the transition needed to be smoother. The girl next door, Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder, Dracula (1992)), is clearly a first love interest – and this should be mirrored with Sparky as she owns the poodle who takes the role of the Bride of Frankenstein – and yet it felt hollow and unused, despite being integral to the ending. The end pay-off is saccharine sweet and a poignant, darker ending would have been braver.

That said, all the above does not make it a bad film, but does prevent it from being a great film. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Alex said...

I remember reading Chris Lee would have a cameo and getting really excited. Then I found they just edited one of his old films into it instead of making a puppet version with new dialog. Bummer.

Doesn't it kind of break the internal logic of the film to? Or whatever you'd call it. That there are "real humans" in this universe populated by animated characters?

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Alex... I guess it does break the internal logic... unless they are inverted and so what they were watching was their form of animation... now I've just made my own head hurt lol :)