Frankenweenie is a scary good movie for children and adults
Posted on Oct 09, 2012 in Features
Tim Burton is officially on a roll. After some lackluster remakes (Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and so-so re-imaginings of classic tales (Alice in Wonderland, Sleepy Hollow), Burton decided to go back to square one by revisiting what made him want to be a filmmaker in the first place. First this year, he made the underrated “Dark Shadows,” which underwhelmed at the box office but is well worth a look on DVD/Blu-Ray. An affectionate tribute to one of his favorite shows as a kid, it may have seemed business as usual, but there was a lightness to it we havn’t seen in years from Burton, at least since his last great effort, “Big Fish.”
That attitude continues with “Frankenweenie” which, as die-hard fans know, was one of his first released efforts way back in 1984, where it was the source material for a short he made for Disney. Though Burton returns to the well which he sprung for the feature-length version, he is clearly older, wiser and savvier. The film is rife with classic creature feature references, and smartly retains the glorious black and white of his original, only greatly enhanced by 3D animation, which works like a charm here as it tackles newfound territory. After all, when’s the last time you saw a 3D movie in black and white? Try never. (Or a B&W feature, period, for that matter, “The Artist” notwithstanding.)
To be sure, this is no “Hotel Transylvania.” The difference between the two is like night and day; sort of like the difference between “Shrek” and old-school Disney animated features. In the former, modern references abound, pop culture is spoofed, monsters aren’t the least bit scary and bathroom humor is the norm.
In “Frankenweenie,” there isn’t a reference past the 60’s at best, unless you count the wry aside about Pluto no longer being a planet. Further, the subject matter is pitch black, not unlike the Disney of yore, where just because a movie had cute and cuddly animals didn’t mean they were safe from harm’s way. Think “Bambi,” as Burton clearly was- note the theater marquee in one scene. Disney movies have never shied away from death- witness also “Lion King” and “Old Yeller,” to name but a few more- and “Frankenweenie” is no exception, so parents are forewarned. Granted, in this particular tale, the titular pooch comes back from the dead, but still…we are talking about a film that climaxes with a host of resurrected critters, some of which are actually kind of terrifying. This is one kid’s movie that earns its PG rating.
Be that as it may, it’s still a lot of fun, and if it pads out its running time a bit longer than it should, at least we get multiple tour de force vocal performances from Martin Short & “Beetlejuice” vet Catherine O’Hara- wait till you hear her deliciously disturbing “Weird Girl” voice; Luna Lovegood ain’t got nothing on her. (She also looks like an undead Taylor Swift.)
Plus, there’s awesomely deadpan voice work from “Ed Wood”-vet Martin Landau, doing a bit of a homage to Vincent Price; and a hilariously left-of-center Winona Ryder, also late of “Beetlejuice” and looking an awful lot like her character there. Wait till you hear her gravel-voiced delivery of a song at the fair, not to mention get a load of her headdress.
In Burton-land, it’s not Hello Kitty, its goodbye kitty, as one gravestone advertises. There’s a poodle named Persephone with a towering perm, a la “Bride of Frankenstein.” Turtles are named after English poets- Shelley, but of course- and a mummy-like hamster is named Colossus. In short, it’s one of the weirdest, most macabre kid’s movies you’ll ever see this side of…well, “The Corpse Bride,” Burton’s last animated effort.
Needless to say, this won’t be for everyone’s tastes, but then. Burton never really was. In some ways, his success was the ultimate fluke: a geek gone good. If Burton has a tendency to get a little too self-indulgent for his own good at times, at least he’s focusing in on it in a more creative way lately. Not since Burton’s early days has his work seemed so alive- no pun intended.
Of course, there’s perverse irony in that both of his comebacks revolve around dead lead characters, but surely that comes as no surprise to hardcore fans. Leave it to Burton to find life in the dead. Whatever the case, it would be a shame if audiences were to miss out on what is easily the best kid’s movie I’ve seen all year, especially since, like the best movies ostensibly for kids, it actually plays equally well with the kid in all adults in the audience.
Burton may be digging up material from his past as of late, but when it results in such fresh material, who can blame him? To be sure, “Frankenweenie” earns its resurrection, and then some.