After the accidental death of his beloved dog Sparky (voice of Frank Welker), young Victor (voice of Charlie Tahan) harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life-with just a few minor adjustments. He tries to hide his home-sewn creation, but when Sparky gets out, Victor's fellow students, teachers and the entire town of New Holland all learn that getting a new "leash on life" can be monstrous.
Review by Louise Keller:
The love of a boy for his dog and visa versa is the subject of Tim Burton's whimsical, macabre 3D stop motion film, whose black and white look echoes its ultra black sensibility. Burton has plucked the idea from his 1984 short film in which a lovable dog called Sparky is brought back to life by his doting owner as part of a science experiment, inspired by his Vincent Price-esque science teacher (voiced by the wonderful Martin Landau).
Uncluttered by the simplicity of the format, the attention to detail is extraordinary with concentration on the storytelling and the characters. That is why we are right there with Tim Burton look-alike Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan), through all the emotional hills and valleys, shedding tears when needed and willing the relationship between him and his beloved Sparky to survive against the odds. Don't be misled: this is not a film for the very young, but for those with a penchant for black humour and who appreciate the Burton mentality.
With distinctive black-circled eyes and exaggerated features, all the children from New Holland Elementary school look as though they have stepped out of a horror movie. We quickly understand that Victor is a loner and Sparky is his only friend, as he huddles in his attic hideaway, where he works on his science experiments. The impending, keenly sought-after Science Fair Project is the trigger that prompts cut-throat competition between the students and although Victor tries to keep his patchwork pet Sparky a secret (body parts continually needing to be reaffixed), the word gets out and creatures large and small are resurrected from the grave.
I love the albino-esque, saucer-eyed weird girl (voiced by Catherine O'Hara), whose lemon-mouthed chinchilla delivers kitty litter deposits shaped in the form of a meaningful initial. Through the exposition, I get the feeling that Tim Burton is not a cat person but a dog lover... but I digress. Highlights include Sparky's hilarious interaction with the bouffant-haired black poodle next door, whose compliant owner Elsa is voiced by Winona Ryder.
With a resounding music score by Danny Elfman that echoes the drama of the events as the film roars to its emotional finale, we are left with the simple message that it is the variable in life that makes the difference - especially when it comes from the heart.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This great, cuddly gothic animation from Tim Burton is full of cinematic references, as the title implies, and it's not just Frankenstein but a whole gamut of cinematic monsters who roamed the earth (or at least Hollywood) in the 30s. There is even a short clip from the 1931 Christopher Lee Dracula movie, and as Frankenweenie is in black and white, it does not seem out of place on the family's TV set.
The most obvious homage is a Bela Lugosi-esque character voiced by Martin Landau, complete with an East European accent (Lugosi was Hungarian). He is the school's science teacher and he has a few withering things to say about the town's ignorant attitude to science. It's as if Burton is arguing the case for scientific enquiry, while at the same time paying respect to the sci-fi horror genre in which man's meddling with nature via scientific experimentation is always doomed to hideous, deadly failure.
Other than Landau's Mr Rzykruski, it's Winona Ryder's voicing of the girl next door, Elsa Van Helsing, which stands out as unique with its quiet huskiness and under-emphasis. Charlie Tahan does an excellent job as Victor, generating enough character to engage us.
The story is beautifully simple: boy's beloved dog is killed in a car accident, boy is prompted by Mr Rzykruski's science experiment in which a dead frog is manipulated by electric current. Unable to keep his success a secret, his friends try and copy his home made methods with dire results.
But Burton fills the film with so much heart we forget the dog is a zombie pet, and even the characters who are bumptious, like neighbouring Mayor (Martin Short also doubling as Mr Frankenstein) are treated gently. Catherine O'Hara voices Victor's mum but it's her voicing of the gym teacher that attracts our attention with its overtones and undertones ...
Entertaining and with something to say, Frankenweenie is an ideal family film: it treats children with respect and its extraordinary attention to detail in the stop motion animation, painstakingly done, gives adults as much to enjoy. Much of the film's soaring mood is due to Danny Elfman's fabulous orchestral score, which haunts so much of the film.
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VOICES: Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan, Frank Welker, Atticus Shaffer, Robert Capron, Conchata Ferrell, Winona Ryder,
PRODUCER: Tim Burton, Allison Abbate
DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
SCRIPT: John August (original by Lenny Ripps, idea by Tim Burton)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Peter Sorg
EDITOR: Chris Lebenzon, Mark Solomon
MUSIC: Danny Elfman
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rick Heinrichs
RUNNING TIME: 82 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Walt Disney
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 25, 2012
RIVERSIDE SCREEN PREMIERES
A program of premiere screenings of new movies prior to their commercial release
on 6 consecutive Tuesdays, starts February 17, 2015 at Riverside Theatre,
Curated & presented by Andrew L. Urban, discussion to
follow with special guests. Briefing notes provided.