Reviewed by Marc Glassman
Tim Burton, director and story idea
John August, script
Stop motion animation with puppets voiced by:
Charlie Tana (Victor Frankenstein), Winona Ryder (Elsa von Helsing), Catherine O’Hara (Victor’s mother Susan/Weird girl/Gym Teacher), Martin Short (Victor’s father, Ben/Nessor/Mr. Bergmeister), Martin Landau (Mr. Rzykruski), Atticus Shaffer (“E” Gore)
Let’s get this straight: Tim Burton remaking and expanding on one of his great early short films. Check. Burton working with the animation team that collaborated with him on The Corpse Bride. Double Check. Burton making the first black and white 3D stop motion animation feature. Triple Check. Burton casting Winona Ryder, Martin Landau and the great Canadian duo of Catherine O’ Hara and Martin Short. Check, check, check, check.
Genre blending: horror, comedy, small town satire, kids flick, family drama, fantasy, a boy and his dog.
Victor Frankenstein’s beautiful childhood life in small town America is shattered when his dog Sparky dies. Refusing to let Sparky go, Victor tries to revive him by sending the inanimate canine, dug up from the grave, into the sky during a thunderstorm. Hooked up to a machine that—presumably—has a magical electrical formula, the dog gets hit by lightning and comes back to life. True—Sparky’s tail falls off if he wags it too vigorously and his face is all stitched up. But he’s alive.
While Victor tries to keep Sparky’s secret quiet, the school’s science teacher Mr. Rzykruski invigorates his class by creating a contest, where the best invention will win first prize. As students ranging from Weird Girl to Victor’s rival Nessor and sniveling friend “E” Gore work on their inventions, it’s obvious who will win. Victor.
When Nasser and his pals find out about Sparky’s revival, Victor is forced to give his rivals the key to reviving corpses. The wonderfully arrogant Mr. Rzykruski is fired for insubordination on the same day that a carnival arrives in town.
On a dark and stormy night, Victor’s classmates create strange monsters through lightning just when Sparky starts to show himself in public.
When the monsters begin to terrify people at the fair, Sparky and Victor arrive to try to save the day. Can they succeed? If so, what will happen to Sparky and Victor?
Martin Landau is dark and funny as Mr. Rzykruski and kudos must go to Catherine O’ Hara and Martin Short as multi-characters including Victor’s parents and such “people” as Weird Girl and Nasser. The other voices are fine, too but it’s the celebs who come through wonderfully well for Burton.
From a stylistic point-of-view, this is the consummate Tim Burton film: mock gothic with the Edward Gorey trimmings. Dark shadows abound. But where’s the director’s story sense? As usual, Burton has made a film with a good concept that looks fabulous. But where’s the scriptwriter?
Frankenweenie starts off very well and looks great. But the film descends into slapstick and farce in the end. The last quarter of the film lacks pace and imagination. Burton fans will enjoy the movie and the 3D and the stop-motion animation. But Frankenweenie could have been great. Instead, it’s OK—enjoyable but no classic.