Owen and Jen could have really used this movie as a tool for the sequel of Marley & Me 2: He Lives!
The story centers on a young boy named Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan), who loses his beloved dog Sparky and decides to harness the power of science to bring his best friend back to life—with just a few minor, but strange adjustments.
It seems as though every time somebody (including myself) goes into a Tim Burton flick, they are expecting the old, wacky Tim Burton that we all fell in love with in the first-place. When I went to see Dark Shadows earlier this year, that’s exactly what I expected but somehow, I was left down in the dumps and totally forgot that he even had another flick coming up. Thankfully, the return-to-form is back for Burton and this time, with no appearance from Johnny Depp. Wooo-weee!
There’s almost something for anybody in this flick, but for all of those film nerds out there, most will probably find the most amusement in pointing out all of the various, old Hollywood horror movies of yesteryear. Obviously, Frankenweenie is a riff off of Frankenstein, but there’s plenty other references/homages to be had here with tips of the hat to The Mummy, The Wolf Man, Dracula, The Invisible Man, and plenty more that may take you by surprise. Hell, I even feel like I missed some and that’s the whole fun of this movie, keeping a special eye out there to spot something just lingering in the background that may make your film nerd blood boil, and that’s exactly what happened to me.
However, it’s not all about the references and nods that Burton gives that makes this flick so much fun, it’s just the whole wacky atmosphere in general. Every single character in this film, is as colorful and goofy as the last one and just watching every single one come around and play for a little bit, brought a huge smile to my face. Sometimes, I even wanted Victor to just get out of his secret lair and run around town and see what all of the other little bastards he goes to school with do, because they were a hell of a lot more interesting than him and are so over-the-top and ridiculous, it made me feel like they could almost be kids I could have known when I was little. Then again, not many in the school I went to brought dead dogs back to life so obviously we never had to deal with any bullying or straight-up weirdness like these towns-people do.
What’s most surprising about the year of 2012 is not how The Dark Knight Rises and The Avengers both came out in the same year, but how there have been not one, not two, but three stop-motion animated pictures in the whole year. This, to me, comes as a total random slap in the back of the head because I thought that this was practically a dead forsaken animated genre that people barely went out to see, and in ways, they don’t but that doesn’t mean that the films don’t look as every bit as purrty as that junk Ice Age 4, that every kid and their miserable mother went out to go see. Every single little piece of detail is calculated so perfectly in this film, that you can’t help but keep your eyes on the screen, not just because you may miss a funny little riff you weren’t expecting to see in a PG-rated movie, but because of how much time was obviously put into these characters, their surroundings, and the way that every scene looks and feels. There’s a certain line that Victor’s nutty science teacher uses about science and says something along the lines of how, “Science only works, if you put your heart and feeling into it.” That’s exactly what I felt coming from Burton here, not just with his story-telling, but the look and beautiful animation that caught my eye the whole hour and 25 minutes the film was up on-screen. Good job, Tim. You better keep this up, you son a of a bitch.
Where I think this film gets a little skewered with itself, was in it’s story-line and how I was left feeling non surprised the whole time. Now, that’s not to really put the blame on Burton or his crew as they obviously had all of the right ingredients for a great, original story that plays around with the idea of what Burton did in his early days of film-making, because most of the problem came from the trailers that played everywhere and practically spoiled the whole damn story. Seriously, everything you see or hear in the trailer, is literally the whole first hour, and everything else is sort of obvious as to where it goes from there. That bothered the hell out of me since every scene just felt like something I was expecting and something I have already seen before, considering this was an original story from the guy who directed and co-wrote it. Damn you trailers! Damn you!
Then, there’s the message of this flick that kind of left me a little scratchy-headed by the end. If anybody, and I do repeat anybody, has ever had a pet or companion or friend in their life, will probably get the feeling of, “Hmm, I wonder if I could bring them back.” I’ve often said this, as well as you have, and mostly everybody else has too. This is sort of the whole fantasy “what if..”-story take on it and plays out perfectly for the most part, but by the end, never really capitalizes on what it’s trying to say about dying and letting a loved one go. For a kids movie, the idea of dying and saying good-bye is a bit too dark and grim, but when you have a movie that presents itself in that way with those sorts of ideas, you shouldn’t back-down from bringing out any important messages that may go straight to the kids heads. It seems as if Burton missed that whole point, and without giving too much away, ends the film on a really strange-note that kind of left me wondering what kids are going to do when they get home. Most likely, they’ll be digging up old Betsie out of the backyard, prying some metal hangers onto her, and just waiting for the next storm to come on by, just because good old Tim Burton said so. Never mind about the trailers, damn you Tim! Damn you!
Aside from this whole screwed-up message that Burton seemed to have missed the boat on, you can’t help but love Victor and all of his interactions with Sparky because it will most likely have you remembering all of the good times you spent with your beloved pet. Every time Sparky would bark, yelp, lick, and jump on Victor when he came home from school, it had me smiling cause it made me think of two dogs that I’ve ever had in my life (Patton & Pearl, don’t judge), and made me want to go home and just play with the latter one. If you’re a dog lover, this whole aspect of the story will have an effect on you, as it did to me and you should definitely be ready for some tears to stroll right down the face, because that’s exactly what happened to me and I barely ever find myself crying in movies. That’s right, I’m a tough-ass so don’t try and break me.
Victor himself, is voiced by newcomer Charlie Tahan, who does a serviceable job but couldn’t help me forget that Victor was just a tad too dull to really hold my interest. Victor is nice, polite, quiet, and very soft-spoken, but is looked at as “the weird kid” from everybody else around from his own father, to the kids in his science class. Maybe making Victor this type of kid was sort of the point, but it didn’t do much for me and just made me want to see more scenes of him hangin’ out with Sparky or other people. More of Sparky than anybody else because I couldn’t get enough of that little guy.
Seeing that this is so-called “return to form” for Burton, it should be pretty understandable as to see him reunite with some vets of in a very impressive supporting cast. Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short voice Victor’s parents and do a fine job at that, but are finally given the chance to let loose when they are allowed to voice the far more wackier characters and it’s nice to see them back in action, even if it is behind the screen; Martin Landau voices the spooky science teacher Mr. Rzykruski, and has this nice bit where he metaphors about immigration using lightening and even gets a nice scene where he tells all of the parents what’s on his mind, in his perfect Bela Lugosi-voice as well; and then there’s Winona Ryder as Elsa Van Helsing, the weird girl next-door who is fine, but nothing special since she isn’t given that much to do here. Then again, it’s still good to see Ryder back in the saddle again and actually being given big roles in Hollywood productions.
Consensus: Frankenweenie is full of fun, light-hearted, goofy, wacky entertainment that may get a bit skewered with it’s message by the end, but is always a blast because it’s Tim Burton returning to what he used to do best: be weird and embrace it.