Thursday, October 25, 2012

Frankenweenie (2012)

Title: Frankenweenie (2012)

Director: Tim Burton

Cast: Martin Landau, Wynona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short


Funny how Frankenweenie, the short film that got Tim Burton fired from Disney in 1984 is the very film that has now gotten remade and released theatrically by Disney themselves, oh how the tables have turned!  You see, once upon a time, Tim Burton was a fledgling filmmaker, trying to make it in the big bad film world. Burton worked as a conceptual artist for Disney in films like The Black Cauldron (1985) and as an animator in films like Tron (1982) and The Fox and the Hound (1981). When he was given the chance and the budget to produce and direct a short film for Disney, the company found the resulting film too dark/scary for kids, and so they shelved the original Frankenweenie which was supposed to play before the theatrical re-release of Pinocchio (1940). So as fate would have it, the original Frankenweenie never saw the light of day in theaters. But things began to look up for Mr. Burton when he hit it big with films like Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) and Beetlejuice (1988). Suddenly Disney was interested again in Burton’s work so in order to cash in on Burton’s success, Disney released Frankenweenie on VHS for all to see.  Right now if you want to see the original live action Frankenweenie short film, you can find it on the Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) dvd, as an extra alongside Burtons other stop motion animated short film Vincent (1982). So low and behold, Burton’s got so much power now as a filmmaker that he can pretty much do whatever the hell he wants, so of course Disney said yes to this new Frankenweenie remake, which is sort of a sweet revenge for Burton, to get Disney to produce a film for which they originally fired him for. But whatever, all that stuff aside, how was this new Burton film?

Poster for the original live action short film Frankenweenie (1984)

Frankenweenie tells the tale of a very creative little boy named Victor. He likes making short films with his dog ‘Sparky’ as the star, he is a scientist of sorts always experimenting, always asking questions, always curious.  Unfortunately for Victor, one day as he is playing baseball, his dog Sparky is hit by a car and killed. Victor doesn’t accept that his dog has died, so inspired by a scientific experiment he sees in school, he decides to try and re-animate Sparky, to bring him back from the dead, Frankenstein style. And what do you know, he succeeds! Can he hide the fact from his family and friends that he’s successfully brought his dog back from the dead?

Tim Burton’s films have aesthetic all their own, it’s gotten to the point where you see a film and you can immediately tell it’s a Tim Burton film or not. It’s that gothicness they have to them; that love for all things spooky. Frankenweenie feels like a film that exists within that Tim Burton universe we’ve all come to know and love, to me it felt like a mix between The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), Sleepy Hollow (1999) and Edward Scissorhands (1990) and by that I mean the film is filled with cemeteries, tombstones, full moons, windmills at the top of a hill, stormy skies, monsters, picture perfect suburban neighborhoods, nosy neighbors, socially inept kids and parents who are oblivious to the things that their kids are going through. Plus, there’s the fact that it’s stop motion animated, a technique that has become closely associated with Burton because of his involvement with films like Nightmare Before Christmas, The Corpse Bride (2005) and James and the Giant Peach (1996). Tim Burton and Henry Selick have both become the champions of stop motion animation in a time when computer generated imagery is king and you know what I think about that: hip, hip hooray for these guys. Stop motion animation is such a beautiful filmmaking technique that I’m glad it hasn’t disappeared thanks to the efforts of these two guys and a couple of other filmmakers (like the creators of Wallace and Gromit) who just won’t let stop motion animation die.

New Sparky (top) Old Sparky (bottom) 

How does this new Frankeneweenie compare to the old one? Well, in terms of premise and themes, they are pretty much the same film. The biggest difference between the two is obviously that the first one is live action and this new remake is stop motion animated. The stop motion animation gives the remake a higher re-watchability ratio because, as is usually the case with these stop motion animated films, there’s so many little details you can fixate your eyes on, these films are eye candy for me. The other major difference between the two is that while the first one focuses only on Victor and Sparky alone, on this new one we meet a bunch of Victor’s schoolmates who are also interested in finding out how Victor brought his dog back from the dead so they can do it as well with their respective dead pets. So we get more zombie pets then in than in the original short film.

Both Frankenweenie films are a homage to James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931), so with this new one you’ll get a lot of references to both Mary Shelly and the old Universal film that starred Boris Karloff. Unfortunately, though I love that old film and the fact that Frankenweenie is a homage to it, this is where Frankenweenie felt a little redundant to me because Burton had already paid homage to James Whale’s Frankenstein in Sleepy Hollow. If you remember correctly, the whole ending in Sleepy Hollow with Christina Ricci hanging from the windmill came right out of those climactic moments in Frankenstein which also take place in a windmill that’s been set on fire. So when when you watch Frankenweenie you might feel that its climactic moments which also take place on a fiery windmill are very “been there done that”, especially if you are a fan of Burton’s films. I guess it’s fitting that the film ends this way when we take in consideration that it’s a homage to Frankenstein, but as I said before, it’s something that Burton has already done before in previous films, in almost the same exact way. The ending to Sleepy Hollow is extremely similar to the ending in Frankenweenie. This was really the only negative thing I could think of.

The film is very simple in nature because when we get right down to it, it simply turns into a film about stopping the monsters from destroying the town, not unlike Godzilla (1954) (another huge influence on Burton) or Gremlins (1984), yet it does have some social commentary hidden within, like for example, Burtons critique on the suburban lifestyle and the dwindling state of education in our school systems. I loved how Burton depicted the science teacher in the film. For Burton, the importance of science in education has always been of big issue in his films, for example, in Sleepy Hollow he highlights the importance of science and logic over superstition. In his films Burton is always addressing the folly of ignorance and the importance of knowledge, so I of course enjoyed that as well. At the end of the day this was a fun Halloween movie, great to take your kid and teach them about the acceptance of death as a natural part of life. It’s simple film in nature, but fun to watch (especially in 3-D) and extremely well animated, I marvel at the work and dedication that went into making a film like this.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Burton and Elvira at the Frankenweenie premiere 


Jack Thursby said...

Yeah, this is getting decent reviews all over the place. Probably the most excited I've been about a Burton movie in ages. The last decade was kind of rough for him (loved Big Fish though).

I find the story about the original Frankenweenie freaking out Disney execs so funny. It's so weird to think he used to work for them!

Franco Macabro said...

Yeah, I'm glad he at least didn't make a crappy movie. Of his recent stuff, this is the one that has that old Burton feel to it.

Yeah, Burton started his career in films with Disney, he animated and did conceptual artwork for them. But once he hit it big, well, now he is back with them, which is good in a way because he has unlimited resources to do whatever he wants.

I always give his new films a break, there's the chance that they might be awesome, I just wish he could completely recapture that old Burton magic, like his old films use to have.

Dan O. said...

Good review. I think it’s just great to see Burton going back to his old ways and still showing us he can deliver the material we need to see, regardless of how strong the story is or is not.

Franco Macabro said...

Yup, this one Ooozes burton's gothic style, which of course is a treat for any Burton fan. Too bad this one kind of fizzled at the box office though. it made it's money back, but it wasn't a huuuuge hit. Well, it's still making the rounds so I guess the jury is still out on how much it will eventually make money wise.

Thanks for commenting Dan O.


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