Directed by Tim Burton
Starring the voices of Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Charlie Tahan, Martin Landau, Atticus Shafer, and Winona Ryder.
Frankenweenie is one of those special cases in the Tim Burton filmography. Originally a short film he made during his days at Disney in the early 1980s, it was a very unique retelling of the Frankenstein mythology, in which Dr. Victor Frankenstein was a 12-year old boy in present day suburbia, and his monster is his very lovable, recently resurrected dog. Disney felt the end product was too scary for kids, and vowed never to release it. Depending on who you talk to, Burton either quit or was fired from Disney over it. But, in the early 1990s, Tim Burton became famous, Disney released it direct to video, and it gained a cult following. It’s been a bonus feature on The Nightmare Before Christmas DVD ever since. And because of that Nightmare connection, a few years back, Disney announced they’d be doing a stop-motion animated, feature length version, with Burton back to direct. And, being a Burton fan, I made time for it.
Victor Frankenstein is a 12-year old boy in modern day suburbia. He’s a bit of a loner, and his best friend in the whole wide world is his dog Sparky. One day, after his father urges him to try baseball, Victor hits a home run into the middle of the street, and Sparky, wanting to play too, chases the ball into the street, where tragedy strikes and Sparky is killed. But a science lesson from his new science teacher shows Victor about how electricity is used by the body’s nervous system. With this new knowledge, and the frequent lightening storms in town, Victor has an idea, and before you can say, “It’s alive!” Victor has resurrected Sparky. As Victor tries to hide Sparky from the neighbourhood, lest they freak out, word eventually gets among Victor’s classmates, and they soon start to think that Victor’s discovery will lead to victory in the upcoming science fair. Will the secret of Sparky get out? And what horrors will Victor’s classmates unleash upon the neighbourhood?
What I Liked
Those who are fans of the original short film will be glad to know that this is very faithful to the original. There are certain scenes that are shot-for-shot exactly like the original short. The voice work is very, very good, with Short and O’Hara showing a surprising amount of versatility doing multiple rolls. Also good is Landau, as Victor’s science teacher, and very much modeled after Vincent Price. Sparky is also an incredibly adorable animated creation. And there’s this weird girl in Victor’s class, known simply as “the Weird Girl,” and she has a joke with cat poop that goes on just a little too long, but is hilarious.
What I Didn’t Like
So, in order to pad out the short film to a feature length 90 minutes, they had to add a much bigger supporting cast, and my complaint is, we really don’t get to know these new characters. Such as Victor’s neighbour girl, Elsa Van Helsing. We see she’s deeply unhappy, living with a tyrannical uncle, but we never get to know why, or the source of her sadness. And it’s a shame, too, because she’s voice by Winona Ryder, and her character design is very obviously based on Lydia from Beetlejuice, which was a nice gag. But yeah, I wish we got more time with these new characters.
It’s a very cute movie. It’ll probably become a Halloween mainstay in my house, next to The Nightmare Before Christmas.