January 6, 2013

From the opening logo — Burton’s right, the Disney Cinderella castle is spooky when done in black-and-white with thunder behind it — I could tell this was a Tim Burton film. It’s almost Spielberg-ian in its love of young filmmaking creativity and twisted suburbanism. In fact, with its old-fashioned pacing and references, it may be the quintessential Burton film.

Young Victor (Charlie Tahan), the aspiring moviemaker, has only one true friend, his dog, Sparky. When Sparky is killed by a car, Victor decides to reanimate his beloved pet. When the other kids in town find out about it, they think he’s trying to win the science fair, and things quickly degenerate in Godzilla- and Gremlins-like ways. Those are only a few of the many classic horror movie references seen here.

Sparky is creepy from the beginning, all pointed nose and oddly proportioned limbs, which makes his eventual transformation into a “monster” all the more believable. He behaves like a pet — albeit a courageous Hollywood one — not a human in a dog suit, which was fun to watch. The children are equally exaggerated and weird, but I soon was caught up in the distinctive look of the film. The Peter Lorre-like kid, Edgar (Atticus Shaffer), made me laugh, although I also wanted to smack him.

I loved the black and white, for that period feel, but I’m not sure it helped the film reach a bigger audience. This is not a young person’s movie. Leaving aside the subject matter, style, and tone, the theme of coping with grief in exaggerated ways isn’t something most kids can appreciate. (Although the happy ending, I feel, isn’t quite in keeping with the rest of the film; that’s the part I feel skews youngest, although it is faithful to the original.) I now wish I’d seen it in the theater in 3-D, because that aspect would just add to the kitschy quirkiness.

Vincent’s attic laboratory during the experiment, when all the goofy appliances we think are important are going bonkers around him, was just the right touch. From a beehive hairdryer and TV to robot toy and ridiculous moving Christmas lawn decorations, it was suburbia gone amuck right there.

Sometimes, this reminded me of Burton’s greatest hits. Mr. Rzykruski looks like Vincent Price (Edward Scissorhands) but is voiced by Martin Landau (Ed Wood). The next-door neighbor girl is played by Winona Ryder (Beetlejuice), and Mom is Catherine O’Hara. Dad is Martin Short, who has no Burton connection I’m aware of, but he does a good job. (Wait! IMDB tells me that the connection there is Mars Attacks!, which I forget is Burton.)

I’m glad I saw it, and with the extras, it’s an inspiring piece of artistry. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that sometimes, you can outlast the people that tell you you’re wrong. Tim Burton was fired from Disney 30 years ago for making this movie. Now, they’re behind its remake, and he built a career out of being this weird. Here’s the trailer:


Special Features

Frankenweenie comes out Tuesday, January 8, on Blu-ray, DVD, digital, and On Demand. Strangely, the four-disc combo pack ($49.99 list price) comes in a standard two-disc Blu-ray case, so the 3-D disc is under the Blu-ray, while the digital copy disc is under the standard DVD. There’s also a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD ($39.99 list). Both Blu-ray choices include, as extras, these items:

* “Captain Sparky vs The Flying Saucers” (2 1/2 minutes) — a new short where Victor and Sparky watch the title home movie. Cute vision of kid imagination, but doesn’t really add much beyond simply seeing more of these characters.

* “Miniatures In Motion: Bringing Frankenweenie To Life” (23 minutes) — The behind-the-scenes featurette, which includes a set tour of the London facilities where they made the movie and a history of how this film was made, including information on the stop-motion puppet techniques. Fascinating and informative, including how 400 puppets required a “puppet hospital” to keep them in good repair. They answer the question of “why a remake?” — because puppetry can allow more of a performance from Sparky than live-action could. This extra is a wonderful reminder of how much work went into this movie, with all the insane detail (and grey paint!) that’s needed to make the performances smooth and believable. There’s something about all the little tiny pencils they had to make for the characters that boggles my brain.

* Frankenweenie Touring Exhibit (4 1/2 minutes) — This collection of props and sketches was filmed on display at San Diego Comic-Con 2012. I was expecting some information on where else this will be appearing, since they call it a tour, but apparently, it’s already over. It only appeared in the US in California, here, and at the theme park, as well as several international cities.

* The original Frankenweenie live-action short film (30 minutes) — Starring Barret Oliver (Cocoon), Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern, and a real dog. It’s the perfect special feature, since you can see what translated directly and how the longer one was enhanced.

* A music video, “Pet Sematary” by Plain White T’s, that features the band playing in front of clips.

The plain DVD edition ($29.99 list) includes the two least interesting features, the one on the exhibit and the music video. (The studio provided a review copy.)

8 Responses  
Ed Sizemore writes:  

I loved this movie. Burton has the same love of Universal horror films, Japanese monsters, & Rankin and Bass claymation as I do. I felt the happy ending was a bit out of place in this movie too.

Johanna writes:  

I was surprised to see it came from the original film. I guess that makes sense, if at that time, Burton still thought Disney had a chance of releasing it.

Argo Plummer writes:  

Plus, let’s look at Burton’s whole body of work–dark, demented, but ultimately sentimental. Most of his movies have endings that favor a happy ending over darker fare–Beetlejuice, Batman, Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish just to name a few.

Johanna writes:  

He did Big Fish? I need to watch that at some point.

Argo Plummer writes:  

Yes, it’s actually one of my favorite Tim Burton films. Much smaller and more personal than most of his other films even though it’s not an original work of Burton’s (It’s based off a novel which is pretty good as well). Great performances from Albert Finney and Billy Crudup and the usual solid performances from Ewan McGregor, Allison Lohman, and Helena Bonham Carter. It may not pass the Bechedel test as it is pretty guy centric, but still a fun and good movie.

Johanna writes:  

Oh, not everything good passes that test. I knew that it had a strong father/son component to it, so that doesn’t surprise me. I’ll check it out, thanks.

Argo Plummer writes:  

I never meant to imply that it had to pass that test to make it good–rather I just wanted you to know that while there are some really fine actresses in the movie–Allison Lohman, Jessica Lange, Helena Bonham Carter, and Marion Cotillard (whom I personally don’t care for, but she is well thought of by the public)–they really only have a purpose in the film that serves the main character (Albert Finney), though it kind of works in this film, but I’ll let you watch and will be interested to see what you think.

Johanna writes:  

Sure, I was joking about it in case someone thought that was the only criteria I used.


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