Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon: Frankenweenie
Tim Burton is a very interesting name to discuss these days. Regardless on if you like or dislike his films, his style is certain different from anyone else. That Gothic twisted look to his films and the dark color palette presents an other worldly feel to his movies that appear like demented fairy tales. Surprisingly, his style didn’t start that way as being well-known. He worked as an animator for Disney and had highly mixed feelings about it. However, he was giving the opportunity to create some short films under his personal creative control. One of these shorts was a movie about a boy and his dog called Frankenweenie. This short gained some infamy with Disney studios for being too dark and Tim wasting their efforts financially. It was never released to US theaters but thankfully made its way to home video.
Barret Oliver plays young Victor whose dog Sparky gets tragically killed in a car accident. After feeling low, he gets the inspiration to resurrect his dead dog through the power of electricity just like in the Frankenstein story. And much like in the story, the resurrected dog causes much trouble in the neighborhood leading people to think Victor made a monster. As one would guess, this was a straight-up parody and homage to the original Frankenstein movies and takes plenty of creative liberties.
Instead of setting it in a period piece setting, Burton cleverly sets it during a 1950s style that almost looks akin to the suburban town in Edward Scissorhands. At close to a half hour length, the story was simple and easy to follow. Despite being a tad dark at times, the short knew when to inject some humor in the right places like when milk leaks out of Sparky’s stitches. Another great scene is when the Frankenstein family invites the neighbors to see the resurrected Sparky. The dad, played by a surprisingly unrecognizable Daniel Stern, tries to joke around with the nervous patrons but only gets deep stares. There’s a lot of emotion riding here when Sparky has to prove he isn’t evil to the people and sure enough, we do get a happy ending. The moral is basic that something you love is never lost. I can connect highly to that seeing how big of a dog lover I am and understand Victor’s sadness. It’s certainly one of Tim’s best that shows how much a small story can impact you.
Now, let’s talk about the 2012 remake. First off, I’m glad to see Tim Burton was able to helm this one and make his own vision. I know the case “don’t fix what isn’t broken” is tossed around but this movie had potential. I loved the boy and dog aspect from the short and figured that is what would be the main focus. When I heard it would be in stop-motion animation, I was floored. I love stop-motion and how rare films are using it these days. Even when it was announced it would be in black and white, I was still intrigued. I thought maybe this could be that one movie that could help return Burton back to his roots like Beetlejuice or The Nightmare Before Christmas (which I know he didn’t direct but was a huge influence behind it). Then I saw the movie. Where do I begin?
I should off the bat that I don’t hate this new take. There are aspects of it I do admire. I’m glad they kept the boy and his dog angle. That was the main focus of the short. Scenes where Victor interacts with his resurrected dog are cute and the animation allows more to do like a funny running gag where some of Sparky’s parts fall off. The character designs are interesting too with some of the class mates resembling classic monsters or Frankenstein archetypes. There’s a kid how looks like Igor and another who feels modeled after Boris Karloff.
So the look of the movie is fine and the basic story is there. The stuff they add in tries to have some relevance to the plot. A new character named Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau) is unique being the wise mentor while showing kids the dangers and thrills of experimenting in science class. He may look creepy but has a soul in a later scene when he explains to Victor how crafting from the heart is more important. The character is nice but the message they add in feels too syrupy even for Burton’s standards. I get the message is that creating something from your own self is more important but it comes off feeling weird. I thought the idea of the short was to show those you loss are never gone. I think that is a more stronger morale than something they try here.
The last half of Frankenweenie is a doozy to discuss. All the kids find out about Victor’s secret and try to make their own dead pets come to life. It makes for one heck of a climax but something doesn’t feel right. How did we go from a boy and the appreciate of his dog to this? I guess the finale when the creatures they make attack a fair is fun but it feels bloated and goes on for a bit too long. And while I know its a movie, I do question the disturbing nature of kids attempting to resurrect their dead pets. I know the short made a clear point about dealing with loss but this takes that idea into a different context that leads me feeling unsettled.
In fact, this subplot is what makes a good bulk of the movie feel unpleasant for me to watch. I know Frankenweenie is trying to pass off as entertainment for all ages but it just leaves me wondering what kids will make of it. I’m sure they will like the idea of a boy bring his dead dog back to life that he loves so dearly. But the elements with the class bringing back their pets or making new monsters out of them leaves me feeling disturbed. I know family films tend to have a dark edge but feels way too much. Maybe its the animal lover in me being defensive but I can’t say this movie is all-out bad. But my thoughts overall are just really a mixed bag. There are some elements I do admire like the animation and the design. I just wish the heart of the story had more focus on what it wants to be. Not one of Burton’s worst but certainly not one of best. My recommendation is to stick with the 1984 live-action short. I feel its heart is in the right place there.
Posted on October 13, 2015, in Horror-Wood 2015 and tagged 1984, Barret Oliver, Daniel Stern, Disney, Frankenweenie, Halloween, Horror, Horror-Wood, Horror-Wood Blog-a-Thon, Martin Landau, Shelly Duhvaul, Stop motion animation, Tim Burton. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.