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Aug 20, 2013

Review: Frankenweenie (2012)


Voice Cast:
                       Charlie Tahan, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder, Atticus Shaffer, Robert Capron, Christopher Lee, Conchata Ferrell, James Hiroyuki Liao and Tom Kenny


                   Tim Burton


                 Frankenweenie is the latest Tim Burton film and at last something worth praising from him. Burton has been on a course of making quite underwhelming movies lately, most of them remakes. His trademark mix of fantasy/sci-fi/horror/musical films have now become dumping ground for Burton to throw away his ideas and talents and give rise to cheap looking, visual effects filled movies with no heart and mostly lacking the very Burton style of atmospherics. I love it when he is creepy but never when he is lazy. So, in a year when most of the animated films either disappointed or turned out to be quite average than what I was expecting, two of these stop-motion films delighted me in utmost senses. My most favorite animated movie of last year is this lovely Burton film. Frankenweenie is a black and white 3D stop motion Sci-Fi family animation which is a remake of Burton's own 1984 short film of the same name which itself was an homage to the 1931 film "Frankenstein" based on Mary Shelley's book of the same name. This is neither a musical nor does it have Depp-Carter pairing up which became tiresome after a while as you guys know. Those who provided voices for the original short, most of them returned for this movie as well. I haven't seen it though but I will like to since this movie was actually quite great. Its pretty nice that Burton returned to his roots, he has been very good with stop motion features and cryptic/horror inspired movies so I personally was hardly surprised when Frankenweenie turned out to be full of heart, charm, creeps and freaks. As it is inspired by Frankenstein, this movie revolves around a boy named Victor Frankenstein who lives with his parents and dog called Sparky. Victor is different from his other classmates since he loves science and movies, he has a lab as well in the attic. His father encourages him to play sports, he does so and as he hits a home run at his first game, Sparky going after the ball is killed by a car.

                 Victor is inspired by his teacher Mr. Rzykruski, when he is demonstrating the effect of electricity on dead frogs. Victor is very depressed and longs for his beloved dog so he decides to bring him back the same way. Victor digs up Sparky's corpse, brings him to his lab and reanimates him successfully. I know such a spooky plot. It is of course as I see it, not for very young kids at all. However adults and slightly older kids will surely love it. With its black and white, off beat visual sense, Frankenweenie establishes a core for its main characters including the dog at first. Victor isn't necessarily a misfit or a kid who doesn't fit in the society. He is much more smarter and open minded than people around him, that is the only thing that separates him. He loves movies specially sci-fi and horror and of course, his big love for science. He shares a very close relationship with his dog who is also his best friend. Victor's parents like any other parents are slightly worried for him, they fear he might grow more isolated as he progresses and encourages him to go out more, play sports and to have some time away from the stuff that he usually does. Are his parents wrong? No. They don't even look down upon their child or treat him in a manner that will discourage him. Things are going well but then suddenly, tragedy strikes. Victor grows even more depressing than he ever was. He misses his dog so much, his companion who would always be with him wherever he would go is now gone. He doesn't really knows how to cope with his grief. Thanks to his interest in science and inspired by his teacher who he considers to be his mentor, conducts an experiment that means more to him than a simple scientific curiosity. The scene has a very heightened sense of both horror, creepiness and sentimentality. To have a humane sentiment behind something so inhumane is oddly arresting. Well the dog does comes back in slightly separate form and still the same Sparky but a bit different. Victor tries to hide him but of course Sparky finds his way out, some of the people spots him. Few of Victor's classmates, some bullies and other odd friends of his demands to know how this was all done so that they can experiment with their own pets or in some cases, bring back their dead pets. You really well know how it all goes in the end.

                 Frankenweenie takes the same story and plot from its original short and expands it into a considerable length to add more to the story. It becomes a delightfully entertaining, irresistibly nostalgic and a love letter of sorts to the classic horror cinema. There are many references throughout the movie, some you might even wont be able to catch but its the second chaotic half that shapes up into a freak show of many creepy figures paying homage to the many horror movies. The town fair turns into a horror show once the experiments of Victor's friends turns awfully bad. Some of the animals turns into odd hybrids, others into giant or small creatures and wreaks havoc on the town. One particular is a Godzilla inspired creature. Its fascinating to see all that really, Burton is best with this kind of stuff. The visual effects and technical aspects of this movie are wonderful. The set up of this town or that of the extremely odd people it is home to, are just amazing. Nothing is overdone, everything looks simple but has a sense of self-awareness that runs through every bit of the place and characters which is darkly comic fun. Danny Elfman's score is wonderful as well. Charlie Tahan gave voice to Victor's character, a very fine job. The highlight here however is Martin Landau no doubt. As Mr. Rzykruski, Landau with his particular accent and mannerism really has a strong presence. The look of that character resembles to that of Vincent Price, assuming Burton's love for horror films, he is a big fan of Price. The teacher is quite an influence on Victor, he also has a somewhat similar approach to science. That part of the plot, also involving the parents of the children at that school, does a very effecting commentary on the advances of science and its reach and capacity as well as narrow minded people who rejects or fears it. The movie very affectively delivers these immediate commentaries or delicate self-referential satires on different things in a way that doesn't take anything away from what is really at the core of this film. Which is of course study of the grief experienced by a boy with his unique sense of what can be done or should be done when struck by such pathos. He realizes it that Sparky is not the same, never can he really be. The sentiment and his friendship is still intact but it has grown more mature now. He also realizes very well so, that these things can go wrong as everyone witnesses so towards the end.

                 Burton is good with filling his movies with odd characters as i said. Their appearances and every bit of their features, he spends so much time making them perfect. You will see many of them here, from Igor inspired or flat-head Frankenstein inspired characters to a weird psychic girl, obese and thin people. The misfits and the too-much-comfortably-fits, everyone. The voice cast, which I talked about earlier also features the voice talents of Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Winona Ryder and others. Most of them provided voices for multiple small characters. O'Hara as usual is a delight to hear speak in weird ways. Frankenweenie is one of my most favorite films of last year and the best work Burton did in years. The way it delivers its emotional earnestness via slew of satire, parody, horror, spookiness etc perfectly shows what Burton really is capable of. Its visually stunning with a clever twist of classic horror inspired macabre mayhem. Its crafted beautifully and ends up being both entertaining and far more touching in ways that many films fails to do so. A gem of a movie.

Grade: A-