Director: Tim Burton
Cast: Winona Ryder, Martin Short, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan, Atticus Shaffer, Robert Capron, Conchata Ferrell
RunTime: 1 hr 28 mins
Released By: Walt Disney Motion Pictures
Official Website: http://disney.go.com/frankenweenie/
Opening Day: 15 November 2012
Synopsis: 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 all learn that getting a new "leash on life" can be monstrous.
Before Tim Burton cemented his status in Hollywood with ‘Peewee’s Big Adventure’ and ‘Beetlejuice’, the well-known eccentric director made a live-action black-and-white film called ‘Frankenweenie’ in 1984. That short has been expanded to feature-length proportions here – thanks to frequent Burton collaborator/ screenwriter John August – and this classic love story between a boy and his dog loses none of its Burton-esque charm in the process.
August retains the concept of Burton’s earlier short in the first half of the movie, where we are introduced to Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan), a shy, socially awkward but brilliant geek whose best friend is his faithful bull terrier named Sparky. The only child of Mr and Mrs Frankenstein (Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara respectively), Victor lives with his parents in the perfect American suburb of New Holland, where in his free time he makes Super 8 films with his toys, improvised props and of course Sparky.
His life is turned upside down one day when Sparky dies in an auto accident while chasing his baseball down a street - and just as in the short, Sparky is buried under a large tombstone at the top of the hill in a creepy cemetery. Nonetheless, Victor’s grief turns out to be short-lived – watching his Vincent Price-inspired science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau) apply an electric current to make a dead frog move its legs, Victor is inspired to do likewise to bring Sparky back to life by using lightning in the midst of a thunderstorm.
Needless to say, Victor’s experiment is successful – and after a scene that directly recalls ‘Frankenstein’, Sparky is back none the worse for the wear, save for a number of visible stitches and screws around his body. Before we get to the part where Victor’s parents find out what he’s done, August comes up with a whole new second act not in Burton’s short. A science fair is coming up, and all the other local kids want to emulate Victor’s breakthrough – whether it is to their pet cat in the case of Victor’s next-door neighbour simply named Weird Girl (O’Hara again) or to one of the other pets in the cemetery long buried in the case of Victor’s loathsome schoolmate Edgar (Atticus Shaffer).
The reanimating game allows Burton’s imagination to go wild, as all manner of monsters from the cinematic world of creature features descend upon the quiet town to terrorise its folk at a night fair. Burton’s love for the genre is palpable, squeezing in multiple references to the classics of yesteryear – besides the evil beasties from ‘Gremlins’, a ‘Godzilla-like’ monster also appears courtesy of Japanese-American kid Toshiaki’s (James Hiroyuki Liao) late pet turtle. Nonetheless, their inclusion does make the climax more bloated than it probably should have been – though fans aren’t likely to mind the nostalgia.
Neither are followers of Burton-esque likely to mind – as always, the characters are winsomely eccentric both in manner and more so in design. Moulded in the signature Burton style of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ and ‘Corpse Bride’, they have stick-thin limbs atop elongated egg-shaped faces with golf-ball like eyes, and in their uniquely weird and wonderful looks are not only differentiated from each other but given a unique personality.
But Burton’s visual achievement here goes way beyond the character design – for the first time, he has chosen to adopt a monochrome palette for the movie, a stylistic choice that might seem alienating at first for the modern-day audience so accustomed to stories told in rich dynamic colours but really an artistically inspired one that accentuates the very telling of the tale. The shadings and shadows are handled beautifully here, and kudos to Burton and his art directors Tim Browning and Alexander Walker for creating a visually stunning world just in black and white.
If Burton’s eye for the macabre is just as sharp here as with most of his movies, what ultimately makes this stand out from the rest is genuine poignancy. Victor is no less a misfit than the lead protagonist from his other films, but the central bond here between a boy and his dog that goes to the heart of just how much one is willing to do for the other is a love story that is relatable to young and old alike. Sure, there will be some scenes that may scare younger audiences given its inclination as a homage to the creature horror subgenre, but this is also one of Burton’s most moving films, and such an enthralling fantasy deserves to be enjoyed by the whole family.
(A classic love story between a boy and his dog told in a unique way that also pays homage to the creature horror classics of old, this black-and-white animation is one of Tim Burton’s most moving films and certainly one of his best)
Review by Gabriel Chong