3 out of 5 stars (average)
Tim Burton is a master of the macabre and a stockpile of strangeness. His movies are dark, usually fantastical pieces that manage to entertain. Over the past couple of years, critics have felt that Burton is losing his touch. Let’s be honest: “Alice in Wonderland” was visually amusing, but it lacked the unique plot and characters that inhabit Burton’s movies. Though I gave it a positive review when I first saw it, I was less impressed the 2nd time when I saw it on Netflix. Earlier this year, Burton brought us “Dark Shadows”, which, though it had its issues, was a massive improvement over “Alice”. Now, Burton presents “Frankenweenie”, a dark Halloween comedy about a boy who re-animates his dog after its tragic death.
Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan of “Charlie St. Cloud”) is a misfit elementary school student who has the brains of Einstein, but next to nothing when it comes to friends. He doesn’t have many to choose from; the hunchbacked, buck-toothed Edgar (voiced by Atticus Shaffer of TV’s “The Middle”), Elsa Van Helsing, (voiced by Winona Ryder), and an assortment of other odd characters. Victor’s dog Sparky fills his void of friendlessness. Concerned for his son’s lack of activities, Victor’s dad (voiced by Martin Short) gets him to try out for the baseball team, which goes great until Sparky is run over for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The next day at school, Vic’s science teacher (voiced by Martin Landau) explains that it’s possible to re-animate dead animals be shocking them. Naturally, Victor attempts this on Sparky, and it works. Unfortunately, Edgar discovers Vic’s secret and blabs it to every kid in town, thus making them all want a piece of the undead pie for an approaching science fair.
This is probably the darkest animated movie I have ever seen. It seems that Tim Burton has applied the same Gothic tone here as in “Edward Scissorhands”, and that works. Though the kids in my theater were not creeped out, I was. The tone becomes progressively “Burtonesque” as the film progresses, especially in the climax. The animation is very similar to “Corpse Bride”, another animated Burton feature. I feel I must say that this is the first Burton movie in a long while NOT to feature Johnny Depp. It does feature both Winona Ryder and Catherine O’Hara (who both worked with Burton in “Beetlejuice”, Ryder again in “Edward Scissorhands”). Another frequent Burton collaborator, Danny Elfman, supplies the score, which is eerily similar to “Scissorhands”.
I read a review of this movie that started out by saying that Burton himself seems to be the audience for this movie. I disagree. The kids in my theater seemed entertained. The animation is something to marvel at, and the black-and-white texture went perfectly with the tone. I am pleased to say that I was entertained by this film; my alternative was “Hotel Transylvania”, something I possess enough interest in to see it on DVD, but nowhere else. I would recommend this film for ages 8 and up. They will enjoy Sparky and won’t be too afraid of the scarier elements.
Rated PG for Thematic Elements (a brief montage of Victor mourning for Sparky’s death,) Scary Images, and Action