tek's rating: ½

Frankenweenie (PG)
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Caution: potential spoilers.

This came out a few weeks before Halloween 2012; I first saw it a year later on DVD, a couple days after Halloween 2013. It's directed by Tim Burton, based on his own 1984 live-action short film of the same name. Like that movie, it's in black & white. Um... I also want to mention that I didn't see it in 3D, but it looked as much like CGI as stop-motion animation, to me. (I'd also say it reminds me of another of Burton's short films, Vincent.) And I feel like saying I don't know when the movie is set exactly... I mean, I figure it must be the present, just because at one point a character mentioned Pluto no longer being a planet. But other than that, it has a very old-fashioned feel to it, kind 1950s or something (much like the short film's vibe). I also want to mention that at one point there was a theater marquee in the movie that said "Bambi," which is a 1942 film, but I'm sure that's not important.

Anyway, basically the movie has the same premise as the original short film. It begins with a home movie that had been made by a kid named Victor Frankenstein, with his dog, Sparky, dressed up like a dinosaur. Sparky defeats a kaiju, and then the home movie ends... and the real movie really gets going. The plot of this movie is expanded from the original short, of course, because it's longer. But as I said, it's the same basic premise: before too long (though a bit later in this film than in the original), Sparky gets hit by a car, and dies. And of course Victor is very upset about that. But later, his class's new science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau), shows the class about electricity reanimating dead nervous systems. So, Victor decides to create a lab in his attic, and during a thunderstorm, he brings Sparky back to life. Which eventually leads to trouble, because of the frightened townsfolk.

Some of the characters in the movie are reminiscent of characters in the short film, but there are also lots of new characters. There's a girl named Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder), who has a pet dog named Persephone. She's staying with her uncle, Mayor Bergermeister (Martin Short, who also voiced Victor's dad and a kid named Nassor). They're Victor's neighbors, and Bergermeister is clearly not fond of dogs. He's also mainly concerned about the upcoming Dutch Day, a local holiday in their town, New Holland. There's also a kid named Edgar, who is obviously based on Igor from the "Frankenstein" movies (voiced by Atticus Shaffer, from The Middle). And there's Nassor, who kind of has his own Frankenstein/Dracula sort of vibe about him. And a boy named Toshiaki, who becomes Victor's main rival, I guess. And an obese boy named Bob. And a very weird girl who isn't named (Catherine O'Hara, who also voices Victor's mother and a gym teacher). She has a cat named Mr. Whiskers (who kind of reminds me of Grumpy Cat). The main divergence from the origial film seems to be that there's an upcoming science fair, which of course all the kids want to win. And when Edgar discovers that Victor has brought Sparky back to life, he blackmails him into helping him with his own science fair project. Aside from that, there's the fact that almost all the parents in town (except Victor's) get upset with Mr. Rzykruski for ridiculous reasons born of their own ignorance. At a town meeting where they're discussing the problem, he's invited on stage to defend himself, and he calls them on their ignorance... which he's absolutely right about, but it's still an impolitic way of handling the situation. And it just gets worse when the way he explains that he's just trying to educate their children... makes him sound like a madman. (It's the parents' distrust of science in general that, more than anything else, makes the film feel like it's taking place several decades ago, at least. I mean, I know people can be stupid and can hate anyone who's smarter than they are, but damn... these people make it easy to believe they're no better than the superstitious villagers who end up chasing Frankenstein's monster in the old... old... Oh, wait.)

Anyway, for a lot of the movie, I thought the plot expansions were just sort of okay. Mostly nothing special, though there were occasional little touches that I quite liked. But eventually... Toshiaki and Bob force Edgar to reveal what he knew about Victor's experiment, and they then share that information with Nassor, and Weird Girl. So each of them tries to independently replicate the experiment on other creatures... and, um... this is where things really diverge from the short film, and make this movie way friggin' cooler than I could have possibly imagined. Because different variables mean the same experiment can have wildly different results. And, oh my gosh... I'm dying to say what that all leads to, but I shall refrain. I will say that after the awesome insanity of the divergence, things end pretty much exactly the same way the short film did. So that was nice.

I want to say, Toshiaki, Nassor, Edgar, and Weird Girl were all really interesting characters whom I would have loved to see more of. It's funny, the first time I saw them, I was like "How can Victor not have any friends? These guys are all so weird, they should get along great." But I came to realize that Victor, in spite of his mad experiment, is just about the most normal kid in the movie, so it makes sense that he wouldn't be friends with all those creepy kids. On the other hand, I also thought Elsa was an interesting character whom I'd like to have seen more of, except she was the only nice kid, aside from Victor. So I feel bad about initially lumping her in with the others... At first I thought she seemed almost like a goth chick waiting to happen, but that really wasn't a fair assumption (not that I have anything against goths). Still, all of the characters seemed very much at home in a Tim Burton movie. And I dunno what else to say, except that a song playing over the end credits, "Strange Love" by Karen O, was really cool.


animation index
family horror index
Novel: Frankenstein
(The following is a list of things I've seen or want to see. There have been countless other things that have adapted or parodied the novel.)

Adaptations: Frankenstein (1931) * The Curse of Frankenstein * Mary Shelley's Frankenstein
Loose adaptations: Young Frankenstein * I, Frankenstein * Victor Frankenstein
Parodies: The Rocky Horror Picture Show * Frankenweenie (1984) * Mary Shelley's Frankenhole * Frankenweenie (2012)
Ensembles: The Munsters * Drak Pack * The Monster Squad * Van Helsing * Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl * Hotel Transylvania * Once Upon a Time * Penny Dreadful