Does the Tim Burton directed Frankenweenie provide a memorable experience about a boy and his dog? Read on to find out. Tim Burton's Frankenweenie poses an interesting question: what would you do to save your pet? The answer might surprise, but it definitely entertains. Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) is a quiet, shy 10 year-old boy living the perfect kid life: his scientific mind affords him great intelligence, but it's his love of Sparky the dog and his parents' gift of an upstairs loft that allows Victor to create a world filled with homemade 3D movies about alien invasions and experiments involving the use of his mother's kitchen utensils, all supervised by the lovable but somewhat uncontrollable Sparky. Both mom (voiced by Catherine O'Hara) and dad (voiced by Martin Short) are pleasant loving parents but don't necessarily understand their son's behavior. Convinced that the boy must expand his horizons, they force him to play baseball in exchange for participating in the school's annual science fair. Unfortunately during his first game, a homerun by Victor results in tragedy, as Sparky is run over trying to fetch the ball. Distraught and seeking answers, Victor concocts a plan to resurrect his friend using a technique demonstrated by the mysterious Vince Price-looking science teacher (voiced by Martin Landau). But when Victor's school mates learn about Sparky's return, they demand the chance to bring back their dead pets as well, leading to a funny but freakish invasion of the quaint (albeit 50's kitsch) town of New Holland. With Sparky at his side, Victor must both convince the town of Sparky's good intentions but also defeat the monsters and save his best friend whose ultimate sacrifice provides a fitting end for the film.
Frankenweenie is not meant for little kids: its story line is both funny but also deep and dark, which will scare the young ones who might have thought it would be a fun film about a boy and his dog. There's some adult themes here as well, including the domineering relationship between the New Holland Mayor and his niece Elsa Van Helsing (voiced by Winona Ryder). There's nothing inappropriate here, but kids simply won't get the deeper layers until they're much older. The pet invasion scene near film's end is a pretty scary sequence, as it was for several members of our test audience who left sometime during the final act. But it's Burton's story to tell, and Frankenweenie is his story about growing up; he weaves the tale with the precision of fine tailor, enveloping us with all the experience of a veteran filmmaker whose work has defined categorization. Whether one has appreciated the path he's taken (for every Edward Scissorhands or Ed Wood there's been a Dark Shadows or Alice in Wonderland), one cannot deny Burton's acumen as a top 5 director. In Frankenweenie, his simple story about the love for our pets is universal and should put a tear in everyone's eye as Victor tries desperately to bring back Sparky. I won't ruin the ultimate ending, but one might find the path which the usually dark Burton takes to be somewhat unique for him.
One cannot perform a study of the film without noting the terrific stop-motion effects, which are well-produced and compliment the black & white cameras which seem to show off a new layer of depth and clarity that I wonder if color could have matched. The 3D experience also moves things in the right direction by creating a nice depth between the characters and the backgrounds of New Holland and Victor's loft. I don't think it's worth the upgraded ticket price, but it does demonstrate that Hollywood continues to move in the right direction with 3D, opting for realism instead of the whiz-bang-in-your-face practice of the past.
Frankenweenie is an odd picture to be sure. Not content to be merely a kid's movie, its deep message about the love we have for our pets shines through the black and white format and stop motion to deliver a memorable, albeit dark interpretation that's not really meant for young children. That's not a reason to skip it entirely, but your kids might come home with nightmares tucked in their pockets. Frankenweenie is a sweet film that shouldn't be missed, not because it will win Oscars, but because it reminds us of a simpler time in our youth when love and devotion to a single thing seemed so clear and undeniable. Whether one likes Burton's odd nature or not, this film is well made and voiced, and should resonate with moviegoers as we approach the Halloween season. In this and many other ways, count this film as a success. Frankenweenie is rated PG for scary situations and has a runtime of 85 minutes.
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