A boy decides to bring back his dead dog in Frankenweenie, another one of those lovely, mournful Tim Burton animation creations.
Considering the movie poster, featuring an image of the sewn-together Sparky, it’s no spoiler alert to say that Victor Frankenstein’s (voice of Charlie Tahan) dog is ushered off this mortal coil fairly early in the movie. But Victor, a science-minded kid who is rapt when Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau) explains lightning, isn’t willing to let a thing like death get in the way of his love of his best friend. He decides to harness the power of the town’s frequently occurring lightning bolts and zap Sparky back to life. But, of course, something this big is not without consequences. Sooner or later, Mom (Catherine O’Hara) and Dad (Martin Short) Frankenstein are going to want back the waffle iron and other home goods used to zap Sparky back. Other kids — Edgar Gore (Atticus Shaffer), Toshiaki (James Hiroyuki Liao) and Nassor (Martin Short) — want to learn Victor’s secret, afraid that reanimation will give him the edge in the upcoming science fair. And then there’s Victor’s young neighbor, Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder). Her dog is sweet on Sparky, alive or not. All of this is set against the upcoming Dutch Day celebrations in windy, spooky-seeming New Holland.
Frankenweenie plays with many of the same monster movie images that the recent Hotel Transylvania does. But that movie uses them for fast laughs, Saturday morning cartoon-style. Frankenweenie, on the other hand, has that Burton-esque wistfulness about it. There is an argument to be made that this note of sorrow isn’t just goth pretension but a way to capture the heartache of childhood: beloved pets who die, beloved teachers who leave, unfairness from adults. So maybe it’s that, that would fit with the core story, which is really just about a boy all torn up over the loss of his dog. Or maybe — like windmills, Winona Ryder, oversized eyes — that whole hint of fog and distant baying at the moon aesthetic is just how Burton operates.
And it works. Frankenweenie is touching in a way you don’t expect a movie featuring a hunchbacked kid named E. Gore to be. I vaguely remember seeing the original Frankenweenie short, which was expanded to make this movie, but at just under an hour and a half, this movie doesn’t seem stretched or fluffed up. There is a nice emotional resonance to the story of Victor and Sparky, Victor and his parents, Victor and Elsa and even Victor and the other kids.
Which isn’t to say that Frankenweenie isn’t funny — it is, in a way that I found more quietly enjoyable than, say, Hotel Transylvania. It is probably appropriate for kids — older elementary schoolers, I’d say. And it is, as previously mentioned, lovely. The stop-motion animation, filmed in a rich black and white, heightens the, well, Halloweenieness of it all. With its all (older) ages appeal and its beauty, perhaps Frankenweenie can be the gateway for introducing younger movie-goers to monster classics. A-
Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images and action. Directed by Tim Burton with characters by Burton and story by Burton and Leonard Ripps, Frankenweenie is an hour and 27 minutes long and distributed by Walt Disney Studios.