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The Independent Critic

VOCAL WORK BY
Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Winona Ryder, Charlie Tahan, Christopher Lee, Conchata Ferrell, Martin Landau
DIRECTED BY
Tim Burton
SCREENPLAY
John August, Tim Burton (Story), Leonard Ripps (Story)
MPAA RATING
Rated PG
RUNNING TIME
87 Mins.
DISTRIBUTED BY
Walt Disney Pictures
DVD/BLU-RAY EXTRAS
4-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack Extras
  • Original Short: “Captain Sparky vs. The Flying Saucers”
  • “Miniatures In Motion: Bringing ‘Frankenweenie To Life”
  • “Frankenweenie” touring exhibit
  • “Frankenweenie” 1984 short
  • “Pet Sematary” Plain White T’s music video
2-Disc Blu-ray Combo Pack Extras
  • “Captain Sparky vs. The Flying Saucers”
  • “Miniatures In Motion: Bringing ‘Frankenweenie’ To Life”
  • “Frankenweenie” Touring Exhibit
  • “Frankenweenie” (original Live-Action Short)
  • “Pet Sematary” Plain White T’s music video
1-Disc DVD Extras
  • “Frankenweenie” Touring Exhibit
  • “Pet Sematary” Music Video performed by Plain White T’s
 "Frankenweenie" a Film That Feels Like a Lifelong Dream 
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Tim Burton's Frankenweenie may not be a flawless film, but it is easily 2012's most affectionate and endearing animated feature with a look and feeling that makes you fully understand that this film is a lifelong dream of Burton's. The film is the fully grown child of Tim Burton's 1984 short film of the same name, his premiere effort with Disney. While the original 26-minute short film led to Burton's untimely demise at Disney, millions of dollars in profit later Burton is back in the mouse house's good graces and finally getting a chance to revisit his story about a young boy named Victor (Charlie Tahan) and his beloved dog, Sparky.

It's a rather bold stroke for Disney to support this lightheartedly ghoulish film about life, death and belief wrapped around Burton's usual unusual eccentric characters whose similarities to monsters past and present is more warm and weird than wild and woolly.

Well, mostly.

Set in the dreary town of New Holland, Frankenweenie is so delightfully abnormal in its normalcy that it would be nearly impossible to not surrender to this little town's inspired absurdity. Charlie is seen an oddball, no small thing given the absolute uniqueness of nearly everyone who surrounds him. His parents, Ben (Martin Short) and Susan (Catherine O'Hara), do everything they can think of to inspire Charlie to be more extroverted but it is to no avail. The boy's only friend is his dog Sparky, and when Sparky meets an untimely demise Charlie seems like he wants to follow right behind him.

Heavy themes for a kid's movie?

Nah, don't worry. Frankenweenie is that rare animated feature that has just the right touches to please both children and parents and adults without children. When Mr. Ryzkruski (Martin Landau), a new science teacher with an uncanny resemblance to Vincent Price, shows up at Charlie's school, the teacher's unorthodox teaching methods quickly gain Charlie's attention and suddenly the formerly subdued Charlie is inspired to attempt the ultimate experiment.

Do I really have to tell you?

This 87-minute black-and-white animated feature is truly the Tim Burton that America fell in love with and one can only hope that America shows up to witness one of his most inspired, inspiring, beautiful and heartfelt cinematic creations. As is nearly always true in Burton's films, being "different" is okay and even celebrated while Burton once again manages to tap into all that is dark and light about humanity.

Burton's films, when they really work, are films that you leave the theater talking about while quoting their lines and whistling their tunes. The same is very much true here, with Burton having created a film filled with delightful characters, unforgettable imagery and music that will stay with you, including a delightful closing tune by Karen O, long after the credits have ended.

Frankenweenie becomes truly inspired once Charlie's experiment has succeeded just in time for the school's science fair. As his fellow students catch wind of his endeavor, the tiny town of New Holland becomes filled with unnatural happenings and all sorts of ghoulish mischief. Frankenweenie is beautifully realized stop-motion animation, not even remotely realistic because it's not supposed to be realistic. The town of New Holland is normal only in the sense that everyone in New Holland is sewn from the same ghoulish tapestry of life. The film is shot in 3-D, and the jury's still out on whether or not it's best seen this way. Burton's 3-D is more immersive than in-your-face, with its impact seen and felt in far more subtle ways than one usually finds with the advanced technology.

Victor's friends include Edgar E. Gore (Atticus Shaffer), a Boris Karloff look and sound-alike (Martin Short, who does triple duty vocally here), Elsa Von Helsing (Winona Ryder), Weird Girl (Catherine O'Hara) and others. On more than one occasion, I found myself thinking that this could have been Stand By Me if Stand By Me was weirder, animated and infinitely darker.

Another refreshing aspect of Frankenweenie is that at 87-minutes it's exactly the right length, with Burton reeling in his usual excesses and the characters developed to just the right amount for the most part.

There's no question that in revisiting his movie-making roots, Burton has also lovingly tipped his hat to to old school monster flicks from the early days of Hollywood to not so long ago. Rather than appearing like the "wink of an eye," however, Frankenweenie incorporates its familiar nods in ways that are intelligent, inspired and never disrupt the story.

The vocal work is strong across the board, with Shaffer, Short and O'Hara being particularly impressive. It should come as no surprise that Danny Elfman scores the film, with music that perfectly tunes in to Burton's mixture of innocence, comedy and monster-fueled mayhem. D.P. Peter Sorg lenses the film perfectly, creating a film that most certainly deserves to be mentioned with 2012's animated feature Oscar nominations are handed out.

Given the undeniable affection that Burton had for this film, it's a joy to watch unfold a film that is both a technical wonder and a heartfelt achievement.

Love is strange and in Tim Burton's Frankenweenie it's also the only thing that can truly, truly bring you back to life.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic  
    The Official Rating Guideline
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