These words are spoken to young Victor Frankenstein by his science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, and they sum up one of the main messages of Tim Burton’s latest foray into stop motion animation, Frankenweenie. Frankenweenie is, in part, the story of a boy and his dog, Sparky. Sparky is Victor Frankenstein’s (voiced by Charlie Tahan) best friend. Victor enjoys making homemade monster movies, in which his loving parents (Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short) indulge him, giving support by watching his movies. Victor is also very bright when it comes to the realm of science, and he becomes excited at the prospect of entering the local school’s science fair. His father makes him a compromise- he’ll sign the permission form if Victor plays sports. Victor reluctantly agrees to this, and during a Little League game uses his knowledge of science to aid him in hitting a home run. Unfortunately, Sparky excitedly chases the ball into the oncoming path of a car. Sparky is buried in the local pet cemetery, and Victor falls into a depression, saddened by the loss of his friend. One day during science class, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau) demonstrates the effects of electricity on a dead frog, sparking (pardon the pun) an idea in Victor’s mind. Victor builds a makeshift lab, digs Sparky up, and in a scene reminiscent of 1931’s Frankenstein brings Sparky back to life. Victor tries to conceal the fact that he brought his dog back to life, but the word gets out, and other students vying for top honors in the science fair attempt to replicate Victor’s results, and of course, things go awry. The creations get loose upon the town, and Victor must try to stop them.
Burton does a nice job in not only creating a story about a boy and his dog, but, like the best classic science fiction movies, also creates a cautionary tale about the misuse of science as well. Filmed in black and white, the movie evokes memories of those classic horror and sci-fi movies of the 40s and 50s, even using a direct scene from Hammer Films Horror of Dracula on the TV being watched by Victor’s parents as he sneaks Sparky’s corpse into the house . Other references abound, from The Bride of Frankenstein to Rodan and Gammera, and even including nods to more recent films like Gremlins, Pet Semetary, Jurassic Park, and even Burton’s own 1989 take on Batman. Genre fans should take pleasure in spotting these and other references, including the film’s exciting climax.
The stop motion animation is well used here, and fits completely with the movie’s themes. Shooting it in black and white instead of color was an inspired choice, and the movie was much better for it. The story, which came from an original idea by Tim Burton, comes across nicely in the screenplay by John August and Leonard Rupps, and is highlighted by long time Burton cohort Danny Elfman’s lively musical score. The entire voice cast does a terrific job bringing the characters to life, and there’s a nice mix between action, drama, and humor throughout. This is a terrific movie overall, and one the whole family can enjoy, and makes for a nice introduction for younger viewers to those classic genre films. One of the best animated movies from 2012, well worth your time.
Frankenweenie is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray.
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