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2012 | 87 min | PG | 1.85:1



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Theatrical release date

 05 October, 2012
 17 October, 2012

Country of origin

 United States

Technical aspects

3D (converted)

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Screenshots from Frankenweenie 3D Blu-ray

Frankenweenie Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, October 4, 2012

There’s no doubt that “Frankenweenie” is a Tim Burton film. That it’s a largely lifeless Tim Burton film is the real surprise, considering it's the man’s second shot at mastering this story. Originally brought to life by the helmer as a short in 1984 (where it was basically brushed aside by nervous Disney executives), “Frankenweenie” returns to screens nearly two decades later, this time as a stop-motion animated production, hoping to mirror the success of Burton’s similar efforts, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Corpse Bride.” While it’s crafted with gloriously ghoulish details and teeming with classic movie references, “Frankenweenie” shows great difficulty proving its worth as a feature-length effort, working through elements of monster rampage and scientific debate that feel more like padding than a naturally dramatic extension of the original creation.

A young boy with an interest in scary movies, Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) enjoys a profound friendship with his pet dog, Sparky. When Victor’s parents (Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara) urge their son to join some outdoor activities, the awkward boy selects baseball, only to watch Sparky get hit by a car while chasing down a ball during a game. Devastated by the loss, Victor receives inspiration from teacher Mr. Rzykruski’s (Martin Landau) science class, figuring out a method to harness the power of lightning and bring Sparky back to life. Thrilled with the success of his experiment, Victor is careful not to parade the dog around the neighborhood, fearful of triggering panic on the eve of an important town festival. However, classmates Igor (Atticus Shaffer), Toshiaki (James Hiroyuki Liao), Bob (Robert Capron), and Nassor (Short) catch wind of Victor’s reanimation breakthrough, hoping to steal his big idea for an upcoming science fair.

One of the first sparks of cinematic creativity from a suffering animator, Burton’s ‘84 take on “Frankenweenie” quickly established the creator’s interest in dark comedy and filmgoing tributes, turning a tale about a boy mourning his dead dog into an elaborate riff on James Whale’s 1931 classic, “Frankenstein.” The new “Frankenweenie” follows the plot of the short closely, only with the stop-motion process, Burton can let his soot-covered imagination soar, reworking the premise to fit a Norman Rockwell fantasyland called New Holland, while fleshing out Victor’s world to include extended time with irascible town mayor Mr. Bergermeister (Short), his withdrawn niece Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder), and various school and community characters.

The screenplay by John August (who’s collaborated with Burton on “Big Fish,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” “Corpse Bride,” and last summer’s “Dark Shadows”) maintains the loving relationship between Victor and his faithful four-legged pal, but what was once 30 minutes now has been elongated to 90 minutes, and the stretch marks are visible throughout the picture. The ghoulish sections of Sparky’s resurrection are preserved here in loving detail, with Burton supplying an affectionate look at an undead dog trying to manage a little water intake while crudely stitched together, or stay out of sight as Victor has ordered. Emphasized here is a question of science, with Mr. Rzykruski imagined as a gruff figure the locals want run out of town due to his educational confidence. The townie rube routine sticks out awkwardly in the feature, as August hammers home a message on the value of intelligence in the face of a mob mentality fueled by ignorance. The conflict certainly reflects our world today, but in the context of a zombie dog picture, the brief aside makes “Frankenweenie” resemble a clunky after school special.

There’s also strange business with a cat that offers psychic messages through its own fecal matter, but that’s a labored idea never touched on again after its introduction. Thank goodness.

“Frankenweenie” carries on through a few sluggish subplots, including Igor’s attempt to blackmail his way into Victor’s discovery, using the lightning technique to reawaken a dead goldfish. There’s also a grand finale with a full-scale monster attack, ushering in a little comedic chaos to a rather subdued, moody feature, while furthering Burton’s obsession with genre history. The movie is filled with references and replications, most sold with a solid sense of humor, while a few come across forced, including Nassor’s shared DNA with “Frankenstein” star Colin Clive. There are times in “Frankenweenie” where it seems Burton would be much happier crinkled up in the corner of a coffee shop, tracing over frames of “Frankenstein” with a Sharpie.

While “Frankenweenie” struggles to beef up its story, it’s undoubtedly a gorgeously animated effort, bringing Burton’s skeletal and bruised designs to life in a memorable B&W world that mixes 1950’s suburban domesticity with flashes of macabre matinee happenings. The movie certainly earns its PG rating due to its intimidating atmosphere, punctuated with an odd solemnity the heartwarming finale cannot cut through. The film is something to stare at, but it’s not a tale that demanded a second wag on the big screen. Burton’s passions and visual kinks are commendable, but “Frankenweenie” is flat and a tad disorganized, wrongly inflating a simple, blissfully odd story to monster mayhem proportions.

Starring: Charlie Tahan, Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Robert Capron
Director: Tim Burton

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Frankenweenie, Forum Discussions

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Frankenweenie 3D (Burton) 65 Oct 14, 2012

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