Monday, October 08, 2012

tim burton is back with frankenweenie

Frankenweenie is simply the best movie Tim Burton has done since Ed Wood. To paraphrase the old Addams Family theme song, it's creepy, spooky, and mysteriously ooky. It's also funny and visually amazing. Maybe Burton should limit himself to black and white films and his love of films past, because both these things seem to bring out the best in him. And just in time for Halloween, too, it's a real treat.

Victor Frankenstein loves his dog Sparky
I saw it in 3D, and it looked great, but the scenes are framed and lit so beautifully that it would look just as great in 2D. The stop-motion animated film is a longer re-imagining of Burton's original 1984 version. That film got Burton fired from Disney (Buena Vista), as it was considered too scary for kiddies. Burton must be feeling pretty vindicated to have Disney big-budgeting his reboot.

Burton's love of the classic black and white Universal monster movies is on display. Adults may get more from the film than their child chaperones, as they spot homages to Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Werewolf and many more. Classic horror film actors like Vincent Price and Boris Karloff are also paid tribute via the voicework. There's also a nod to Rankin Bass in the character of Mr. Bergermeister. The voicework is excellent, with such actors as Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short, who voice multiple characters, and Winona Ryder, Conchata Ferrell, and Martin Landau, among others.

Victor's classmate Weird Girl has a psychic cat, Mr. Whiskers
Young Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) loves his dog Sparky. They do everything together. Victor is essentially a loner, and doesn't interact much with the other kids in his class. But that all changes after Sparky dies after being hit by a car. A heartbroken Victor is unconsolable ntil the new science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau, channeling Vincent Price) gives Victor the idea of how science and electricity might help bring Sparky back to life. His experiment is a success, but once people start to find out about Sparky life and science become more complicated — and dangerous.

The essential story of a boy and his dog remains touching, but what puts the movie over the top are the incredible puppets and visuals. Period cars and sets with amazing details will make for repeated viewings. Much of the movie is told from Sparky's eye-view. The look of the characters are similar in style to much of Burton's other work, like The Corpse Bride, The Nightmare Before Christmas, and even Edward Scissorhands. In Frankenweenie that signature style has been tweaked a bit, exaggerated almost to the point of the grotesque. But somehow it all works. I can't remember enjoying a Tim Burton movie as much in a really long time. And if you're lucky enough to go to a theater that is giving away an exclusive IMAX print with Burton's original sketch of Sparky, be sure to grab one. I sure did.

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