There is just no love like that between a boy and his dog, so I decided that Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to take a look at Tim Burton’s latest animated family film Frankenweenie. Put away your pitchforks and torches; this little monster is one to love.
Released: October 5, 2012
Starring (voices): Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan and Winona Ryder
Directed By: Tim Burton
3.5 stars (out of 4)
From creative genius Tim Burton (“Alice in Wonderland,” The Nightmare Before Christmas”) comes “Frankenweenie,” 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.
What I Loved
Sparky: Victor Frankenstein’s BFF (and basically ONLY friend) is his dog Sparky, who stars in all of Victor’s monster films and is always by his side. And who wouldn’t want a dog like this? Sparky is one seriously adorable canine! Yes, he is full of stitches, has a couple of bolts in his neck, and a flannel (?) polka-dot cloth sewn to his back in place of fur, but he is so full of sprightly energy that he is irresistible. Sparky made this movie work, and director Tim Burton took the time to let us fall in love with the little monster. Beginning with scenes of Victor and a very-much alive Sparky going about their days side by side, he is careful to show the bond between the boy and his dog which is so integral to the story. When tragedy struck it brought actual tears to my eyes, so I was completely invested in Victor’s desperate attempt to bring his little buddy back from the dead. Of course Victor is successful – we wouldn’t have a movie if he wasn’t – and seeing this little guy bopping along, happy as a lark, wagging his tail and having it fly off into a bucket was just so cute!! Sparky is really the spark that brings this film to life.
A Slam-Bang Finale: Oh my goodness, this movie had one heck of a finale! Stemming from a determination to win the school science fair, it seemed like every kid in town was suddenly trying to bring a beloved pet back from the dead – to hilariously disastrous results. I found myself laughing as some of these creatures hit the screen (what was Colossus, anyway? A mummified hamster?) and gasping when Weird Girl’s cat Mr. Whiskers was accidentally caught up in the mess. But when these monsters got loose and started trying to take out everyone at the New Holland Dutch Festival the action really ramped up, leading to a fiery finale filled with death-defying rescues. And through it all, Victor and Sparky were a team – after all, nothing beats the love between a boy and his dog.
This Film Has Style: Stop-motion animation is a classic art form of its own, so it was fantastic to see it utilized in Frankenweenie. I was also surprised at how much I enjoyed having it filmed in black and white! It worked beautifully, probably due to the subject matter, but the lack of color wasn’t an issue at all. In fact, I think it would have been a lot more disturbing to see all of Sparky’s wounds and stitches in living color; the black and white highlighted them nicely instead. I just love that animation now has a black and white classic horror film of its very own!
What I Liked
An Homage: Obviously Tim Burton loves the horror films of yesteryear, utilizing the classic Frankenstein as inspiration for this film. The nod to The Bride of Frankenstein was cute, as Elsa’s poodle suddenly received the famous white streak in her hair from the sparks set off by Sparky. It was also great to see clips of Christopher Lee as Dracula as Vincent’s parents cuddled on the couch watching TV. But Burton didn’t stop there; from the names of the characters to a nod to Godzilla, his love for these old movies is apparent. It was a lot of fun picking out the little details Burton threw into the movie in tribute to those black-and-white monster classics. He even tossed in a reference to his own Sleepy Hollow with a windmill sequence at the end as a bonus.
What I Didn’t Like
Too Little Elsa: Neighbor Elsa Van Helsing just wasn’t developed enough to really make a statement, which was a shame. I would have liked to see some sparks between her and Vincent so when danger struck her late in the film his rescue would have had more emotion to it. As it was I had a lot more concern for Sparky than Elsa, but since he is the title character it could have been worse. I did like her little “Dutch Girl” scene, though.
Pacing: It seemed like the second act dragged a little bit, as Victor tried to hide his successful resurrection of Sparky but was called out by his rather annoying classmate Edgar “E” Gore. Actually I think any scene involving “E” seemed to slow things down, which is not something you want in a film that clocks in at less than 90 minutes. Things picked back up, however, once all the kids tried to recreate Vincent’s success and ended up with a disaster on their hands.
Featuring an absolutely adorable stitched together canine hero in the title role, a slam-bang finale, and several sly references to the monster movie classics of yore, Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie is a heartfelt and entertaining animated feature celebrating the love between a boy and his dog. While I wish the character of Elsa had been a bit more developed and the pacing a little speedier in the second act, overall I have to say I loved this little film and look forward to watching it again and again. In fact, Valentine’s Day isn’t the only holiday this movie is perfect for – what do you think about Halloween?