Directed by: Tim Burton
Written By: Lenny Ripps (story), John August (screenplay)
Starring: Charlie Tahan, Martin Landau, Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Winona Ryder, Atticus Shaffer
A long time ago in a land far, far away – 1984 Burbank – Walt Disney Pictures was the home of a talented young wunderkind by the name of Tim Burton. After crafting a touching and earnest animated short film about a boy and his dog called FRANKENWEENIE, it was deemed not reflective of Disney standards and Burton was sent packing. Years later, greater minds prevailed and the company has wisely mended fences with Burton. Now a feature length 3-D stop motion animation version of the original tale is set to take over the box office (and move into your heart). Blending the sweet sentimentality of youth, this is a wish fulfillment fantasy that’s a tail-wagging good time for the entire family.
Offbeat pre-teen Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) and his bull terrier Sparky are the best of friends – in fact, Sparky is his only friend. When Victor’s not in school, they hang out and create low budget B-movies together. After his mom and dad encourage him to have more outside interests like baseball, Victor begrudgingly accepts the challenge. Everything goes fine until – dogs being dogs – Sparky wiggles out of his constraints, runs after the ball, and is subsequently hit by a car (which incidentally was the first of three times my 3D glasses fogged up). Not accepting his beloved companion’s death, and being inspired by his intense Science teacher Mr. Ryskruski (Martin Landau), Victor raises Sparky from the dead. However, the idyllic town of New Holland does not readily accept Sparky 2.0 nor the kind of inspiration that takes hold of his young classmates.
Much like the short that bears the same name, the overall story is still in its purest form. Not diluted nor feeling padded out to stretch the story into a longer running time, themes remain the same, only with a new breath of life. Screenwriter John August cleverly builds off Lenny Ripps’ original, adding timely debates about science, art, and the encroaching death of intellectualism. This is sure to elicit tears and laughter from the most jaded of audiences. Frequent Burton collaborator composer Danny Elfman tones down his usual grandiose score in favor of the film’s poignant emotional narrative. It’s surprisingly subtle. While all the voices are top notch – especially Landau’s no-filter teacher – Weird Girl’s cat, Mr. Whiskers, steals the show. There’s just something about his blank stare that’s utterly hysterical.
I only had one, minor gripe. There is one moment at the end – I don’t want to give too much away – that I would’ve liked to have seen taken in a different, renewed direction. While I understand why it plays out the way it does (being in line with the original short and the wish fulfillment aspect), it feels convenient. It could have been a more refreshing fable to help children deal with the loss of a beloved pet – an intensely relatable emotion kids should be allowed to feel. After all, isn’t not condescending to children one of the messages Mr. Rzykruski espouses?