PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):
Young filmmaker and scientist Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) lives with his parents, Edward and Susan Frankenstein (Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara) and dog Sparky in the quiet town of New Holland. Victor’s intelligence is recognized by his classmates at school, his somber next-door neighbor, Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder), mischievous, Igor-like Edgar “E” Gore (Atticus Shaffer), obese and gullible Bob (Robert Capron), overconfident Toshiaki (James Hiroyuki Liao), creepy Nassor (also Short), and an eccentric girl nicknamed Weird Girl (also O’Hara), but communicates little with them due to his relationship with his dog. Concerned with his son’s isolation, Victor’s father encourages him to take up baseball and make achievements outside of science. Victor hits a home run at his first game, but Sparky, pursuing the ball, is killed by a car.
Inspired by his science teacher Mr. Rzykruski’s (Martin Landau) demonstration of the effect of electricity on dead frogs, a depressed Victor digs up Sparky’s corpse, brings him to his makeshift laboratory in the attic, and successfully reanimates him with lightning. Seeing Weird Girl’s living cat, Mr. Whiskers, the undead Sparky escapes from the attic and explores the neighborhood. He is recognized by Edgar, who blackmails Victor into teaching him how to raise the dead. The two reanimate a dead goldfish, which turns invisible due to an error with the experiment. Edgar brags about the undead fish to Toshiaki and Bob, which, in panic of losing the upcoming science fair, inspires them to make a rocket out of soda bottles, which causes Bob to break his arm and Mr. Rzykruski to be blamed and fired due to his accused influencing and reviling the townsfolk for questioning his methods when he steps up for self-defence.
Eventually, Edgar’s fish disappears when he tries to show it to a skeptical Nassor (who was told by Toshiaki) and when Edgar is confronted by Toshiaki, Nassor, and Bob on the baseball field at school, he accidentally reveals Victor’s actions, inspiring them to try reanimation themselves. Victor’s parents discover Sparky in the attic and are frightened, causing the dog to flee. Victor and his parents search for Sparky while the classmates invade the lab, discovering Victor’s reanimation formula. The classmates separately perform their experiments, which go awry and turn the dead animals into monsters—Mr. Whiskers holds a dead bat while it is electrocuted, turning him into a vampire cat; Edgar turns a dead rat he found in the garbage into a wererat; Nassor revives his mummified hamster Colossus; Toshiaki’s turtle Shelley is covered in a growth formula and turns into a giant Gamera-like monster; and Bob’s Sea-Monkeys grow into amphibious humanoid monsters. The monsters break loose into the town fair where they wreak havoc.
After finding Sparky at the town’s pet cemetery, Victor sees the monsters attacking the fair and goes to help his classmates deal with them—-the Sea-Monkeys explode after eating salt-covered popcorn, and Colossus is stepped on by Shelley, while the rat and Shelley are returned to their original, deceased forms after being electrocuted. During the chaos, the town’s mayor’s niece Elsa van Helsing is grabbed by Mr. Whiskers and carried to the town windmill. The townsfolks blame Sparky for her disappearance and chase him to the windmill, which Mayor Bergermeister (also Short) accidentally ignites with his torch. Victor and Sparky enter the burning windmill and rescue Elsa, but Victor is trapped inside. Sparky rescues Victor, only to be dragged back inside by Mr. Whiskers. A final confrontation ensues, and just as Mr. Whiskers has Sparky cornered, a flaming piece of wood breaks off and impales him. He gives one dying screech and he windmill collapses on Sparky, killing him again. To reward him for his bravery, the townsfolk gather to revive Sparky with their car batteries, reanimating him once more. Persephone, Elsa’s pet poodle, who has a hair style similar to the Elsa Lanchester’s Bride of Frankenstein, comes to Sparky as the two dogs share their love.
It wasn’t that long ago that people were commenting on how there are millions of Christmas family flicks, but very few for Halloween. Well, now we have 3 brand new, and really good, flicks to show the kids on October 31st, ParaNorman, Hotel Transylvania, and Frankenweenie. The debate over which is the best of the bunch is one that can go on and on. Take you pick!
What is this about?
When young Victor’s pet dog Sparky (who stars in Victor’s home-made monster movies) is hit by a car, Victor decides to bring him back to life the only way he knows how. But when the bolt-necked “monster” wreaks havoc and terror in the hearts of Victor’s neighbors, he has to convince them (and his parents) that despite his appearance, Sparky’s still the good loyal friend he’s always been.
What did I like?
Retro. Tim Burton’s last film, Dark Shadows, wasn’t the big success people expected it to be but seeing the masterpiece that this is, I believe he was just more concerned with making this project. As with many Burton projects, it has that retro vibe to it, complete with stop motion animation which, as avid readers of this blog know, I am a huge fan of, as it is vastly superior to CG crap.
Character design. Continuing with that retro vibe is the design and mannerisms of the characters. The kids are mostly based on classic movie horror characters and are named that way as well. Their biology teacher is obviously modeled after Vincent Price. I can’t help but wonder and Victor, though. He looks like he’s either recycled from The Corpse Bride or is supposed to be Johnny Depp. The jury is still out on that one for me.
Heart. Underneath all the laughs, classic horror references, and zombie animals, there is some true heart. Apparently, people really cotton to a boy and his dog, especially if that dog is a real friend. Throw in some hints at a slight romance and parents that truly care and you can’t help but feel something.
What didn’t I like?
Someone hates cats. I’m no dog fan, not by any stretch of the imagination. As a matter of fact, it annoys me to no end that cats are never given the chance to really be the hero, but rather often end up the villain, while dogs can apparently do no wrong. There is absolutely no reason Mr. Whiskers should have become the main antagonist. It really served no purpose, other than having a dog fight a cat. Let me tell you this, had something happened to that dog, the whole country would have been calling for Tim Burton’s head, but something happens to the cat, not a peep!!! UGH!!!!
Recycle. Burton brought back many of his frequent collaborators to voice these characters, such as Winona Ryder, Martin Landau, and Catherine O’Hara, but I have to wonder where his two muses, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter (who he is also married to) were. I know they are both in the upcoming The Lone Ranger, so there is that possibility, but I believe he could have put them in there if he really wanted. They have become to Burton what Samuel L. Jackson is to Tarrantino. I’m not saying the film was worse off without them, because I’m not really sure what character they would have voiced, but it just was strange not having them there.
Experiments. So, Victor brings Sparky back to life a la Frankenstein. Somehow, the Igor-looking kid finds out and wants his fish brought back to life. In a way that isn’t really explained, other than his heart wasn’t in it, the fish becomes invisible, and eventually vanishes from existence. Then of course, there is the jealousy induced experiments that go wrong and nearly destroy the town, but those I can let slide as something to give an exciting finish.
Dare I say Frankenweenie is one of Tim Burton’s best outings? It better be, he did a version of this back in 1984, and has been working toward doing it again with more resources and better technology since then. I had such a good time with this film that it is hard for me to not recommend this, but there are some things that just aren’t appropriate for younger eyes and ears, not to mention Burton haters and those that live or die by CGI. If you don’t fall into one of those categories, then I highly recommend this!
4 1/3 out of 5 stars