I remember the day my beloved hamster died. It was terrible - he was my first pet, well, excluding the fishes in aquarium, and though I couldn't walk him and I almost never let him out of his cage, I really loved him. I cried for days. Now I have a beautiful Yorkie, my first dog ever. He is one year old, I've known him for 10 months and I love him so much - he wiggles his tail and jumps whenever I get back home, he wakes me up in the morning and he brings toys and drops them next to me when he wants to play. He is my friend.
When I heard about the premise of Tim Burton's latest stop motion animation Frankenweenie, I knew I will cry. There are not many things in life that are worse than losing your friend, losing your beloved pet, and that's exactly the premise of the movie. The film follows Victor, boy who doesn't really have any human friends - he kinda likes the neighbor girl, but he keeps to himself. But he has one true friend in his life - his beloved dog, Sparky. Sparky follows Victor everywhere and spends all his time with him, clearly loving and caring about his owner.
One tragic day, during baseball game, Victor hits the ball with the bat and the ball falls on the street. Sparky wants to bring the ball back to his friend. When he is running back...the car hits him and Sparky dies. Victor is devastated. Then one day, his science teacher shows the class the power of electricity - he is able to animate the corpse of a frog, by hooking it up to electric source. Victor, science whizz, gets an idea. He dags Sparky up, he repeats the process his teacher showed and then...a miracle happens. Sparky is alive again!
Victor and his friend are reunited - but he needs to hide Sparky from others. It's not that easy since Sparky is in love with the poodle next door - Persephone. She belongs to Elsa Van Helsing, one of the few people who don't ridicule Victor. Another problem is the science project the class was assigned to - one of the creepy kids from Victor's school - Edgar - finds out about Victor bringing Sparky back and blackmails him into showing him how he did that.
Frankenweenie is a remake of Tim Burton's own short film of the same title, which was made and released 28 years ago. It is also the first good movie Burton made since, what? Sweeney Todd? Tim Burton never screwed up stop-motion movie so I was suspecting that this may be good. Especially since with the story like that, with so much heart in it, even if the director loses his way, it will still be all right in the end. While the film is far from perfect, it is all you would like to see in Tim Burton's movie - old Burton, I mean.
Memorable place that the action takes place in? Check! The setting of the film brought back the memories of Edward Scissorhands - it's like the exact same town, with white picket fences, roses and adorable houses. Movie references to classic films? Check! The basic premise is obviously a big homage to Frankenstein. There is also one incredibly cute reference to The Bride of Frankenstein, when Persephone touches the bolt on Sparky's body and gets electrocuted - causing her to get the iconic hairdo known from the movie.
In fact there are tons of those little nods in this movie - every single horror fan out there - and by "horror" I mean the old school, artistic and genuinely beautiful horror film classics - will have so much fun noticing all of those great little references, visual similarities and good-natured, loving spoofs. All of that is accompanied by Burton's favorite composer Danny Elfman, who delivers his best work in years in this movie - cute, a little spooky and memorable - just like the film itself.
What about quirky characters? Check. We have all of those eccentric folks here and the one that definitely stands out is Weird Girl - freaky, loony blond chick who has these intense eyes and this wacky way of talking. She also has a cat - Mr. Whiskers - and they both bring a lot of classic Burton humour to the film - adorable, weird and hilarious moments. She was definitely my favorite character here, though I deeply related to Victor, since he has such a strong bond with his dog and loves him so much.
Unfortunately, not everything works equally effectively here - while everything we see is really quite clever and adorable, some parts just aren't as interesting as another. In the latter part of the movie, Frankenweenie switches from the tale of friendship to a huge stop-motion homage to old monster flicks. While all the references we see there are quite fun, I'd much rather see more of Sparky and Victor and Sparky's romance with Persephone - this is definitely one the cutest love stories I've seen all year.
In fact, the only reason why I wasn't bored out of my mind during this last sequences was because I cared so much for Sparky and I didn't want him to get hurt. Whenever he was hurt or in danger during this movie, I mentally collapsed. When he died and Victor was mourning him, I wept continuously until he was revived. The film definitely can make you cry - especially when you are clearly unstable like me - but I think it is guaranteed small children will be very sad and upset when some things happen. Also I can honestly say this is too intense and scary for little ones to see. I think parents should avoid showing this one to their children, especially if they lost their pet recently. Playing with electricity is even more dangerous than playing with matches.
The fact the movie slows down so much in the latter half and especially in the scenes with "villains" - Victor's ignorant class mates - is pretty much the only problem I had with the movie, but since it was under 90 minutes long the fact I was bored is a pretty huge deal. On the other hand, the finale of the movie is fantastic - it's filled with excitement and anticipation and I kept hoping that Sparky and Victor will be all right and they both get the girls. The very last moments are so lovely and heartwarming I cried again. My make up was completely gone by the end of this movie.
While this year's Brave had an amazing animation, the technique used in Frankenweenie is mind blowing. I always admired the stop-motion technique. It's just incredible to me that this bunch of people who made this movie made those puppets and kept moving them inch by inch to create movement, paying attention to the tiniest details, creating entire sets and thinking about each little thing in the frame. The amount of love, thought and care put into that process is astounding. And the way it looks like on the screen is just beautiful.
Sparky's movements are especially realistic. He does all the things real dogs do - scratching himself behind the ear, standing on two paws and begging for food when the family is having dinner, sniffing everything around him. Though Sparky looks so grotesque, you never forget that this is the man's best friend. I really loved the little touch of adding few stitches after he is brought back to life and Sparky being shocked when he looks into mirror. Another brilliant reference.
The voice work delivered in the film is fantastic and everyone is doing great job. I think the film benefited greatly from Tim Burton not using Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter indeed. Some things mix together brilliantly, but if it happens over and over again, something delicious can turn into something that will make you vomit and have diarrhea. Instead, Burton reunited with few folks from Beetle Juice and used goddess herself - Winona Ryder, who provides voice for Elsa.
Frankenweenie is not a masterpiece, but I think I'd rank it even above Corpse Bride. It's no Nightmare Before Christmas, but comparing to Burton's latest films it's amazing. Hell, comparing to Dark Shadows this one is a masterpiece of gigantic proportions.
Frankenweenie (2012, 87 min)
Plot: When young Victor's pet dog Sparky is hit by a car, Victor decides to bring him back to
life the only way he knows how. But when the bolt-necked "monster"
wreaks havoc and terror in the hearts of Victor's neighbors, he has to
convince them that despite his appearance, Sparky's
still the good loyal friend he's always been.
Leonard Ripps (based on a screenplay by), Tim Burton (based on an original idea by)
Charlie, Tahan, Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short