Director: Tim Burton
Writer: John August; story by Tim Burton; based on Frankenweenie by Tim Burton and Lenny Ripps
Cinematographer: Peter Sorg
Producer: Tim Burton and Allison Abbate
by Jon Cvack
There are three facts that make Frankenweenie a fascinating film. First being that the film’s based on one of Tim Burton’s earliest shorts (linked below) which is a black and white film about a boy and his dog who gets hit by a car. The boy reanimates the dog and so follows a story largely inspired by the first two Frankenstein movies. The second bit is that this entire film is in black and white to begin with; a super bold move from Disney which must have cost this studios tens of millions of dollars in revenue per the strange disdain people have for monochromatic films.
The third is that the entire film was created entirely with puppets - a description that completely fails to capture what these designers achieved. I advise watching the supplement on the disc before seeing the film (it contains zero spoilers). The puppets required such detailed mechanics that production eventually had to call in Swiss watchmakers to design tiny nuts and bolts. Even so, the scale of the set was one of the largest ever created, with the houses and school standing nearly as tall as a person. Each puppet had a near endless array of facial pieces, providing any expression imaginable, down to a myriad of eyebrows to make an eyeball blink.
We open up on tweenager and filmmaker Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) who lives with his parents Edward (Martin Short) and Susan (Catherine O'Hara) and whose best friend is a dog named Sparky. Victor is an outcast with few friends that he avoids hanging out, uninterested in the sports pushed by his father and instead obsessed with making tiny short films. At school, his Vincent Price-inspired teacher Mr. Rzykruski's (Martin Landau) demonstrates the way electricity could be used to reanimate the dead, later announcing a science fair and subsequently creating a fierce competition amongst Victor and his friends. The contest even attracts the attention of the Igor of the film, named Edgar (Atticus Shaffer).
While playing in a baseball game he couldn’t care any less about, Victor hits a homer which causes Sparky to run out and get the ball, getting hit by a car. Victor decides to use Mr. Rzykruski’s lesson to reanimate his dog on a rainy night, with a laboratory comprised of items found all around the house, providing one of the most extraordinary scenes from the film- as with any Frankenstein movie - made all the more impressive when considering the amount of time it would have taken to pull it off. Edgar then learns of Victor’s accomplishment, blackmailing him to teach the method.
However, knowing that there was no way that Sparky would wreak the havoc of the original Frankenstein, the story then turns to Edgar telling their science fair competitors Bob (Robert Capron) and Toshiaki (James Hiroyuki Liao) about the method, who then reanimate a range of dead lab creatures, including a rat, bat, mummified hamster, and sea monkeys; thus shifting the structurer from Frankenstein to a Universal Horror throwback, most comparable to House of Frankenstein (1944; which I watched a couple weeks later). So begins a thrilling final act as the Victor and Sparky are left to battle a fascinating series of terrifying Burton-esque monsters.
The Bluray makes the craftsmanship pop off the screen, with the story just creepy and interesting enough to make you forget that you were watching what must have taken tens of thousands of hours to complete. If this movie was in color I think it might have taken a solid position in the pantheon of popular horror films; especially if it honored the color scheme and style of Edward Scissorhands (1990). While I can defend the black and white for how well it captures the essence of the original series, I assume mass audiences aren’t racing to put this film at the top of their lists when there’re so many other comparable films in color. To think that Burton was able to pull it off - and through Disney, nonetheless - goes to show his power; highlighting how incredible it once was that a director like Burton had enough leverage to make this type of film.
BELOW: Burton's original short
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