Synopsis: From Disney and creative genius Tim Burton (Alice In Wonderland, The Nightmare Before Christmas) comes the hilarious and offbeat, Frankenweenie, a heartwarming tale about a boy and his dog. After unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky, young Victor harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life – with just a few minor adjustments. He tries to hide his home-sewn creation, but when Sparky gets out, Victor’s fellow students, teachers and the entire town learn that getting a new “leash on life” can be monstrous. Complete with electrifying bonus features, Frankenweenie is alive with enchanting fun for the whole family.
Frankenweenie (2012) 7.25
eyelights: the black and white cinematography. the odes to classic horror films. the weirdness of most of the kids. It’s not a musical.
eyesores: the character designs. the characters’ movements.
“When you loose someone you love they move into a special place in your heart.”
Tim Burton has officially run out of ideas. I mean, many of us suspected that he had dried up the well years ago, what with his rehashing of every iconic piece of pop culture under the sun ever since ‘Sleepy Hollow’ – the exceptions being ‘Corpse Bride’, ‘Big Fish’ (which is based on a novel), and ‘Mars Attacks’ (which is also based on previously published material, but at least was a unique concept).
He is so short on ideas at this point that he’s now redoing his own work!
The original ‘Frankenweenie’ is a short film that Burton put together while he was at Disney in the mid-’80s. He was notoriously fired for having wasted the company’s resources and the short was shelved until Burton’s name became box office gold – whereupon Disney released it on home video in censored form. It was only much later, on ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ DVD that it was offered unedited.
For reasons that escape me, Burton decided to take his homage to classic horror films, expand on it and remake it as a stop-motion animated film. Why would he redo his own work? At its core is the same story, except that now it runs well over twice the length and was made with considerably more money. And with the Disney Corporations approval and blessings.
It was also only a modest success at the box office. One can only speculate as to why the film wasn’t more successful than it was: Are cinemagoers experiencing Burton fatigue (I know I am)? Did Disney fail in their marketing duties? Did the tale not strike the right chord with audiences? Or did they simply sniff out the fact that it was a less fresh product?
I wish I knew.
Because, as far as I’m concerned, there’s really no reason why this film would fail where other Burton films succeeded: it features many actors that have worked with Burton before, Danny Elfman did his usual Burton-esque score, it has the same type of quirky characters, it makes ample tongue-in-cheek pop culture references, it is visually splendid but weak in the storytelling.
So what gives?
Personally, I found it tired. It was the same old Burton shtick that I’ve seen countless times before but in a less exciting form. It’s not to say that it’s bad, but it’s not great either. It’s better than much of Burton’s recent output, but it falls somewhere in the ‘Edward Scissorhands‘, ‘Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure’ and ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ realm. Except without with the zest.
‘Frankenweenie’ is the story of Victor Frankenstein and Sparky, his dog. Victor loves his dog and even makes it the central figure in the home movies he shoots in the attic. Unfortunately, one day, Sparky gets run over. Victor, torn by grief, one day is inspired to reanimate Sparky after seeing a science experiment in school. Thus Sparky is pieced back together and hilarity ensues.
From that point onward, we are treated to all sorts of silly shenanigans, such as a recreation of Frankenstein’s monster scene (but with Victor creating his equipment out of household items, à la Pee-Wee), a handful of creepy critters (such as Gremlins-like sea monkeys, a bat-cat, a giant turtle, and a mean mummy-hamster) and the peculiar interactions of a classroom full of eccentrics and social misfits.
The picture is rife with all sorts of pop culture reference, most notably from classic Universal-era monster movies, such as the Frankenstein and Dracula films , by naming a turtle Shelley, having neighbours called Van Helsing, a poodle’s hairdo made to look like The Bride of Frankenstein, Victor’s friend called E. Gore, a teacher that looks like Vincent Price and so many others that I can’t name (or didn’t even grasp).
It’s surprising, then, that ‘Frankenweenie’ isn’t more fun. If anything, it feels contrived to the point of tedium – a pastiche of disparate ingredients. Ironically, since it culls from various sources, it’s very much like Frankenstein’s monster: alive, but soulless. Familiar, but not enticing. A lumbering creature that walks but isn’t limber. It has the appearance of life, but it’s only going through the motions.
Which surprised me, truth be told. I was watching the film and, based on the number of stop-motion films I’ve seen (including the three Burton-related ones), I thought that this was actually a cgi film made to look like stop-motion – which would have been a marketing decision based on Burton’s association with stop-motion versus the cost and ease of producing cgi instead of the labour-intensive stop-motion.
Thing is, it didn’t look real. To my eyes, anyway, ‘Frankenweenie’ has that processed look that cgi films have – not the three-dimensionality, the depth, that stop-motion films usually offer. Did I have a poor copy of the picture, and thereby it affected the quality of the image? Or was it a stylistic choice by the filmmakers – one that ultimately defeated the purpose of having huge crews labour so hard?
Also not realistic: the ending. Why, oh why, did Burton agree to the inclusion of a trite Hollywood ending to his movie? Has he not made enough motion pictures to know that these recycled cinematic conventions have no life left in them at all – not even in a story about reanimating the dead? Puke puke puke. Gag vomit. Why do they always have to end these movies the same way each friggin’ time?
At least ‘Frankenweenie’ gave us a decent final act before spoiling it all with its unsavoury cliché: it served up an amusing throwback to monster movies of yore (particularly Japanese ones), when creepy mutated beasts fought each other for supremacy, with humanity at their mercy. Um… before launching into the requisite Frankenstein close that Burton’s already rehashed, in ‘Edward Scissorhands’.
Sure, a lot of it didn’t make any sense (Why would Nassor sic his miniscule Colossus against a ginormous turtle and even think it could win? He was purportedly a genius, not an utter moron), but it was exciting enough and it had its share of amusing twists, such as the way in which they dispose of the rampaging sea monkeys, or even the fact that it was set at a local fair, with all the attractions one might expect.
And that’s the gist of ‘Frankenweenie’: it’s filled with all too many things that one might come to expect both from Tim Burton and from Hollywood. It’s by no stretch of the imagination a terrible film, but it feels like leftovers that were warmed up once too many times; it’s still comforting, and somewhat tasty, but it holds no surprises as one consumes it, longing for something fresher, tastier.
Although Burton and Disney tried to bring this dead dog back to life, they only managed to make it undead. And that’s not quite the same thing.
Date of viewing: Sept 29, 2013