Videodrone New Release: 'Frankenweenie' – It's alive! Alive! How cool is that?
Tim Burton's juvenile Frankenstein is a playful twist on monster movies with a sweet center
When you see a film like "Frankenweenie" (Disney), Tim Burton's feature-length animated reworking of his early live-action short, how can think of Burton as anything but a big kid working with, as Orson Welles put it, the biggest toy train set a kid ever had? In Burton's case, simply substitute a Frankenstein's laboratory of a stop-motion dollhouse for that toy train and you've got the dream movie studio of cinema's most innocent dark fantasist.
As the title suggests, "Frankenweenie" is an adolescent twist on the classic story, with bright, creative schoolboy Victor Frankenstein as a science nerd and budding filmmaker with a handmade lab / movie studio in the attic of his suburban family home. That's where he brings his devoted pet dog Sparky back to life after a devastating road accident. (The death of Sparky is an understated moment with heavy reverberations.)
Sparky is a success (apart from losing pieces of his patchwork body in his excited reanimation) but his classmates (who all seem to have come from an Addams Family reunion) aren't quite so careful with their experiments. They unleash a mash-up of rampaging creatures spawned from generations of monster movies by way of a child's imagination: a gauze-wrapped mummy, a towering Godzilla by way of Gamera stomping down main street, hopping gremlins giggling through a carnival midway, all in living black and white. Imagine a late show vision taking over a classic animated TV Christmas special.
I love stop-motion animation but the loving designs and distinctive textures of this kind of puppet animation are only as successful as the movie they make. I call this one a great success. Burton mixes in a love of horror movies with an innocently ghoulish sense of humor and harmless gross-out gags, capturing that childhood fascination with monster movies and the macabre. And he tells a story with a lot of heart and soul. For all the surgical stitches and electrical boost, this is finally all about a boy and his dog.