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'Frankenweenie' an homage to the classics

By Brendon Field
On October 8, 2012

When it comes to Tim Burton, there is a clear pattern in the quality of his films. Whenever his works are original ("Ed Wood," "Big Fish," "Edward Scirssorhands"), they're usually pretty good. Whenever he tries to retell a familiar story, ("Alice in Wonderland," "Planet of the Apes") he reaches varying levels of bad. His newest film "Frankenweenie" mostly fits into the latter category, but thankfully, it breaks the trend.
As one would guess, "Frankenweenie" tells the story of "Frankenstein," but instead of a mad scientist and a monster, we have a boy, Victor (Charlie Tahan) and his faithful dog, Sparky. After Sparky is hit by a car and killed (yes, this scene will make you cry), Victor uses electricity to revive him, but then has to hide him from his parents and townsfolk. The relationship between the two is well-established and developed, and the scenes of a reincarnated Sparky wandering around the town make for great comedy. And Victor is made out to be more than just the generic school kid with affection for his companion. The movie has a very playful, lighthearted tone about it, so it's a lot of fun, with the emotional draw played at just the right level.
The character set in "Frankenweenie" is enormous, and they play off of each other very well. They include an enjoyable Igor-like character named Edgar (Catherine O'Hara), an obese child named Bob (Robert Capron) and a crazed-yet-fascinating science teacher. Most of the characters are stereotypical, but very colorful and enjoyable. The size does appear to work against it at times. There is a female character, Else (Winona Ryder) who seemed to be Victor's love interest. But she is given so little screen time nothing really develops.
The film pays homage to not only "Frankenstein" but many classic monster movies, and there are mountains of references, from a character with the surname Van Helsing to the fact that the crazed science teacher is voiced by Martin Landau. These are fun to pick out and give something extra for the adult audience. Unfortunately, the references eventually take control of the plot, causing it to fly off the handle toward the third act. The film had a small, sweet story going for it, and out of nowhere, it transforms into a more traditional monster film, with Victor and Sparky almost forgotten. While it does become very entertaining, and I'm glad I got to see it, the film would have been better if it didn't divert from its original path.
The animation is what we would expect from Burton. Human appearances are exaggerated, with enormous eyes and gangly limbs. Burton isn't afraid to hit us with grotesque and even unpleasant imagery at times. While not always pleasing to the eye, it is always interesting, refreshing and sometimes adorable; I can't quite explain how, and I don't think anybody but Burton can. The lack of color works surprisingly well, and "Frankenweenie" as a whole is a unique stylistic entry in the genre.
Most kids today know horror films as slasher rampages, zombie takeovers and demonic possessions. "Frankenweenie" is a really clever, humorous and heartwarming way to introduce them to the golden age of horror and all the monsters it spawned. I'm very happy this movie exists, especially after seeing it.

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