Writer: John August, Tim Burton, Leonard Ripps
Based On: “Frankenweenie” (1984 Short Film) By: Tim Burton
Starring: Charlie Tahan, Frank Welker, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Robert Capron, Atticus Shaffer
Country: United States
MPAA Rating: PG
Time: 87 minutes
Genre: Animation, Comedy, Horror, Sci-Fi
USA Release: 10/5/2012
On DVD (USA): 1/8/2013
Awards: 1 Golden Globe Nomination
Since Tim Burton first appeared on the film scene he has brought a lot of creativity and imagination to his projects. Known for his dark perspective, he has delivered many classics over the years ranging from “Beetlejuice” and “Edward Scissorhands” to “Big Fish” and “Batman”. While some of his latest projects have been seen as flops like “Alice in Wonderland” (although I quite enjoyed it) and earlier this year “Dark Shadows”, he has continued to do projects that are passionate to him. With “Frankenweenie” he is now setting his sights on turning his original 1984 short film into a full-fledged feature film.
In the suburban city of New Holland, where our story takes place lives a young filmmaker and scientist named Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan). There he lives with his parents Ben (voiced by Martin Short) and Susan (voiced by Catherine O’Hara) and his dog Sparky. Victor may not seem like your typical child having little to no friends and spending much of his time alone or with Sparky. Until one day, when Victor wants to do the science fair his father, makes him compromise by also trying to play baseball, and while out playing ball, Sparky upon a surprising homerun from Victor chases after the ball and is suddenly struck by a car and killed. Although deeply saddened by Sparky’s death, Victor’s new science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau) is about to give Victor the idea of a lifetime that might bring Sparky back into his life, while creating a insane competitive streak in the rest of his classmates.
One of the first things people think of when they hear about a new Tim Burton film is “where is Johnny Depp going to be in this one?”. Yes over the years Burton and Depp have collaborated on many films together (8 to be precise) and in the recent years their collaboration has seemed to hit a low point. However Depp is of no concern here as he isn’t in this film, surprisingly. But Burton is collaborating with people of his past for this animated film, setting his sights back almost 20 year at least, but we will get to that later. Anyway, Burton’s remake of his 1984 short film, follows the same concept of as the original. It constructs itself with many different horror stories and films from over the years, centering on the stories of “Frankenstein” and “The Bride of Frankenstein”.
Like with another animated film that celebrates the horror genre that came out earlier this year, “ParaNorman”, “Frankenweenie” might have a little trouble finding an audience. The fact that the film isn’t bright and typical animation like you see with say “Hotel Transylvania” (which is “Frankenweenie”’s biggest competition at the box office), it makes it a tough sell to kids that might not be familiar with Burton’s work. Another thing that stands in it’s way of getting a good audience is the fact that it is black and white. Just look at “The Artist” even though it walked away the big winner at the Oscars this year, there are people out there that won’t see it simply because it’s a black and white, silent film, even though it is a brilliant piece of art. The black and white in “Frankenweenie” perfectly matches the tone of the story, giving it that extra boost of creepiness. And having it work along side the stop-motion animation style of Burton’s character just make it all the more beautiful. His animated character’s while they all seem to resemble one another in the world of Burton animation, elongated joints with semi bulbous heads, they differ from others in the world of animation. His creations are so precise and well put together, and when you read and see photos of Burton’s childhood, you see where the inspiration for his characters stem from. He has helped the world embrace and celebrate being different, unusual and weird.
Like with any family or kids films, there are messages being sent out to teach the kids lessons (dun-dun-duuuun!!!), like don’t re-animate your dead dog, no matter how much you want to. But the writing for the entire film is fantastic, you gets that tone you expect from Burton films, doom and gloom, while delivering comedy that will make even the most hardened adult chuckle. The hijinks that the kids end up getting into make the film even more fun as you sit there guessing the character and other creachers origins. This is why I think that while this may have been made with kids in mind, I feel that “Frankenweenie” like with “ParaNorman” will cater more to teenagers and adults in the end, even if it is in 3D. It’s not the fact that it might be scary to some of the really young viewer, it’s just the material doesn’t seem something kids want to see (since it only made $11.5 million opening weekend), unfortunately. But hopefully with the critics all loving the film, what it loses at the box office hopefully will get made up for with a nomination for Best Animated Feature.
Moving on, while there are some cast members that are working with Burton for the first time, mostly the younger cast members, there are a good amount that have worked with him before. However many of these actors/actresses that have worked with him before haven’t worked with Burton in at least 20 years. Christopher Lee who makes a cameo in this as Dracula, seems to have worked with Burton the most out of the rest of the cast, working with him for four other films. Although Lee’s role is just a cameo, you’ll find that it’s a very unique one at that, and don’t blink or you might just miss it. Martin Landau who voices Mr. Rzykruski does an impeccable job. As the eccentric new science teacher, Landau sells the sinister voice well, and it can’t hurt that his character just happens to resemble that of the great Vincent Price.
Then there are the children of New Holland. James Hiroyuki Liao voices Toskiaki, one of Victor’s classmates. After word gets out about what Victor has done, he and the some of the other fellow classmates begin to do their own experimenting, that just happens to go all wrong. One thing to keep an eye out for in the film, mostly near the end, is trying to figure out the origin of all of the kids and their creatures. Toshiaki since he is Japanese, you can probably guess what his creature might just resemble, well if not here is a hint, it’s big and likes to smash cars and buildings. And then we have Atticus Shaffer who voices Edgar “E” Gore, who himself resembles and embodies Igor, but you might have guessed that from his name. Anyways, Shaffer does a wonderful job of making his voice sound only the way Igor should sound. I was surprised when I started thinking about how much he sounds like Peter Lorre from “Casablanca” or one of my favorites “Arsenic and Old Lace”. Anyway Edgar is super creepy and is sinister in his own way, he scares pretty much everyone in the town just by walking up to them. Although he may resemble the being that assists the mad doctor in classic horror films, don’t be mistaken he is no assistant to Victor, just a nosey kid.
As you can see we have a lot of great people voicing these characters, and doing a great job at that. Moving on to Robert Capron, he voices Bob, a rather large boy in Victor’s class. Bob is one of those major over achievers, so when he finds out about what Victor has done, he too feels he also needs to try so that he can beat Victor in the science fair. Bob’s attitude could all be because of his mother voiced by the always reliable Conchata Ferrell (who plays Berta on “Two and a Half Men”), Bob’s mom is a stereotypical suburban mother and housewife. And when she is not doing things for Bob’s best interest, she is trying to keep things in the area the way they were meant to be. Again I urge you to keep and eye out for what the kids monsters resemble because Bob’s is a great one.
And then there is Victor’s neighbor, Elsa voiced by the awesome Winona Ryder. Elsa shares a striking resemblance to another character that Ryder played in a Burton film, Lydia from “Beetlejuice”. That role is what pretty much launched Ryder’s career, of playing dark and mysterious roles, so it’s only fitting to have her voice such a character. While Elsa is a dark and mysterious character, she seems to be a pretty normal one, she is one of the only students in Victor’s class not to get caught up in beating Victor in the science fair. One thing that saddened me was the fact that although her character is seen as a possible love interest for Victor, we don’t see a whole lot of her and don’t really get to know her like the other kids, all we get is that she is unhappy. As for Victor himself, voiced by Charlie Tahan, Victor is much like Elsa in the fact that he seems to be alone most of the time and enjoys it. He is a pretty happy kid until the death of Sparky, but when he brings him back, it doesn’t make things that much easier since he has to hide him all the time. But Victor the ever resourceful must fix the mess that he started after bringing Sparky back to life.
Ok I saved these two for last as they voiced multiple characters, Martin Short who voices Ben Frankenstein also voices Nassor, who is Toshiaki’s partner and looks a lot like Frankenstein’s monster, even walks and talks like him too. Short also voices Elsa’s uncle who is Victor’s next-door neighbor and is also the mayor of New Holland. Anyway Short does a fantastic job, each character is very distinct and different sounding, you would never guess that Short did all of these voices, I know I didn’t until the credits began to roll. Then there is Catherine O’Hara, she voiced Susan Frankenstein, along with Weird Girl and the Gym Teacher. Of all the character in the film, O’Hara voicing Weird Girl (and yes that is what her name is for the film) has got to be the creepiest looking and sounding character in all of animation. This big eyed doll-like girl and her weird psychic cat, Mr. Whiskers, is the type of character that could give anyone nightmares for a month, and O’Hara nailed the creepy voice to match.
Overall, while “Frankenweenie” might not have the newest and most deeply written plot, it benefits from the interesting and creative use of different classic horror stories and films, along with the complex charm of it’s characters. While it may not interest the kids it was intended for, teenager and adults, even if they are not Burton fans, will enjoy this film. With it’s laugh out loud comedy, fantastic script and brilliant cast of actors and actresses voicing the characters, what is there to keep you from watching this?