Directed by Tim Burton
After his pet is killed in an accident, a young outcast brings his dog back to life. But things get out of control when others find out and force him to resurrect their own deceased pets just before the annual town festival.
This is a fun twist on the Frankenstein story. Burton takes the basic framework of the original story and shifts it to suburbia. He tosses in some super science and a touch of cartoon logic for good measure. And it all creates a family friendly urban fantasy.
Frankenweenie nicely references the classic monster movies as well as a few other films. The most overt is the initial visual reference to Frankenstein in the equipment used when young Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) brings back his dog Sparky (vocal effects by Frank Welker). Gamera gets referenced at the end when a resurrected turtle named Shelley (the name there referencing Frankenstein author Mary Shelley) gets covered in Miracle Gro and becomes a kaiju-like creature. We even have a reference to the Rankin/Bass special “Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” in the form of Mayor Bergermeister who is also the Frankenstein’s neighbor as well as being Elsa (Winona Ryder) van Helsing’s uncle. I could go on, but the movie is jampacked, but I think you get the point.
This is a rare Tim Burton film that does not have Johnny Depp in it. Holy cow! But it does have previous Burton collaborators Winona Ryder, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, and Martin Landau. O’Hara and short perform an assortment of character voices in the film which I found unusual. That is usually left to the lesser known cast.
The story is sweet and touching even if it is a bit odd. Victor is a young outcast with a love of science and an appreciation for giant monster movies which star his pet and closest friend Sparky. He proudly shows off these films to his family. You get a distinct sense of Victor’s isolation and his parents concern for him.
There are few laugh out loud moments here. The world onscreen is mostly just pleasantly unusual much in the same way as Pee-wee‘s Big Adventure was. Two moments gave me an actual laugh though and they both occurred with Elsa while at the Dutch Days Festival. You will enjoy yourself and leave with a smile.
This is not a modern world but rather an odd retro place. The cars and the clothes look like they belong in the late 50s to perhaps even in the very early 70s if anything. You are not forced to try and believe this is happening today. Somehow being in the past makes the idea go down easier. But for me what really helps sell this is that the film is in black and white. I adore the old school monster movies and the use of black and white really gives this film the feel of the movies they are paying homage to here.
The message here of the film, if there is one to be had, is in part do not fear science. Part of the problem is that the town’s parents react poorly to Mr. Rzykruski’s (voiced by Martin Landau) science teachings in what is an indictment of ignorant suburbanites. All the character is doing is teaching the facts. Another message you can take from this is hold on to the past-at least the good things. Victor is unwilling to let go of Sparky.
Frankenweenie is a sweet and quirky twist on the Frankenstein story. It is well worth a watch during Halloween.