on 26 October 2012
FRANKENWEENIE is a black-and-white 3D stop-motion horror/comedy directed by Tim Burton (DARK SHADOWS, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, CORPSE BRIDE). What a fantastic, funny, imaginative film! I preferred this film to the recent PARANORMAN, and it was almost as good as the amazing CORALINE. Tim Burton's films have been getting worse and worse in terms of quality, in my opinion, but this is a huge improvement!
Young Victor Frankenstein has no friends except for his adorable pet dog, Sparky. When tragedy strikes and Sparky is killed, Victor feels more alone than ever. Until one day, when he performs a dangerous and controversial experiment, which brings Sparky back to life. Soon, however, his class mates discover what he has done and attempt to bring back all the dead pets of the town. Can Victor and Sparky stop the onslaught of deformed, monstroys pets, or will the town be plunged into total chaos?
The storyline was incredibly original and inventive, and featured some very powerful moments. I felt that the black-and-white really enhanced the storyline and made the film all the more enjoyable. The ending was scary, action-packed and emotional, and I thought the dialogue was very realistic.
The characters were fleshed-out, creative, whacky and thoroughly interesting. When the dog dies, you really feel sorry for Victor and there are one or two scenes that really make you care about pretty much every character, even the cruel ones. Weird Girl was hilarious!
The animation was a lot smoother than many of the other stop-motion flicks I've seen. I loved PARANORMAN so much but some of the animation was a bit dodgy. FRANKENWEENIE was far more impressive animation-wise. I think the 3D really wasn't needed at all, but it didn't take away from the films brilliance.
The voice cast was great. The person who did Victor was fantastic and Catherine O'Hara was brilliant as Weird Girl and Victor's mother! Overall, FRANKENWEENIE was a near-perfect thrill-ride, with wit, action and scares that all added up to a classic stop-motion. 10/10
on 1 May 2016
Tim Burton is one of the Brothers Grimm, a born fabulist and storyteller with a gothic imagination and macabre sense of humour. He thinks in parables and gives us beautiful and memorable fairytales. He’s also an artist with heart. Some tales told by him may be sentimental, but sometimes it’s good to say, “Three cheers for sentimentality!” Such is the case here in this story about a boy who tragically loses his dog, a being he can’t live without. A love story, then, between Victor and Sparky, boy and dog.
One day on the ball field Victor and friends are playing baseball. Someone hits a home run and the ball flies into the street beyond the field. Sparky is feisty, energetic. He will chase anything — cats, birds, butterflies. And now, as it happens, a baseball. The ball rolls, Sparky runs. A car speeds in the street. It tries to stop but can’t. Or not in time. Sparky dies. Victor is devastated.
The devastation lasts a long time, longer than normal. Concentration goes, energy too. Victor, once so perky and joyful, is listless, lonely, lost. His parents love and console him. They tell him Sparky still lives in his heart. But Victor, too crushed and bitter to care, says to them:
“I don’t want him in my heart. I want him here with me.”
Victor is nerdy, skinny, a dorky science geek. He loves the power and magic of science, its transformative, alchemical properties. And it’s almost predestined that this should be, as his is a literary-scientific name — Frankenstein. Like God, he is interested in the power of resurrection. He wants to be a great alchemist who can turn death into life.
Sparky is gone until a spark, quite literal, is struck in science class by the teacher. A dead frog, placed on a petri dish, is wired up to an electrical power source. Mr. Rzykruski, the teacher, a towering authoritarian figure, is an Old World refugee who speaks English with a thick Eastern European accent. He has to be from Transylvania. If not, Poland, right? Or maybe from Battle Creek, Michigan, home of Kellogg’s, as his name almost sounds like Rice Crispies. Victor, lethargic as usual, only half listens as Mr. Rzykruski says:
“Just like lightning, the nervous system is electricity. We are wires and springs and cables to send the messages.”
But then suddenly Victor is all ears. He sits up straight when he hears the teacher say:
“Even after death the wiring remains. Watch as the muscles respond to the electricity.”
Victor does. He watches the frog’s legs spring to life.
He runs home excitedly, his mind feverish with items he must gather for his experiment. But first he must retrieve the body.
On a cold, rainy night, the sky filled with thunder and lightning, he arrives at the pet cemetery, torch and shovel in hand. Sparky is buried on a hill like Calvary, the highest in the cemetery. Over his resting place stands a stone cross. In a grave next to him Hello Kitty is buried, the sad message carved into her tombstone short and bittersweet: “Goodbye Kitty”. Yes, so long. Wet from the driving rain, Victor digs down through mud and soil. The tip of the shovel hits the small coffin and Victor digs it up, placing it in a cloth sack. Thunder cracks and wild animals howl as Victor leaves the cemetery, now officially a body snatcher.
In the attic of his parents’ suburban house Victor has his laboratory. Rigged up to pulleys and chains, a wooden platform can be pulled up to its skylight. Victor places the corpse of Sparky on this platform and then a blanket over the body. Through the skylight he runs kites and umbrellas attached to twine and string. They sail high into the sky and into the heart of the storm above. Lightning flashes and electricity races down to the skylight. Sparky’s body is jolted with volts. It shakes and smokes under the blanket.
Victor lowers Sparky into his lab. Minutes pass and nothing happens. There is no life. With closed, wet eyes Victor embraces Sparky and says to him, “Sorry, boy.”
More time passes. Then, from under the blanket, the tail moves a little and starts to wag. Sparky’s tongue darts out and licks Victor’s hand. Sparky looks a mess — like death warmed over, so to speak (bolts in his neck, stitches everywhere, body parts falling off) — but Victor is out of his head with joy. Sparky is alive and that’s what matters. Victor Frankenstein has lived up to his famous name.
Sparky looks monstrous, but he’s no monster. He’s the Sparky of old, if battered and low on energy. If he gets rundown, Victor attaches clamps to his neck bolts and runs a potent charge through him. That always perks him up now.
Naturally, no one can know. For now Victor must keep Sparky tethered in the attic. This happens for a while but can’t last. Sparky chases the neighbour’s cat through the skylight and enters the world again.
Victor’s friend Edgar is the first to know. He saw Sparky by the school gym. Edgar, sad to say, is an ugly hunchback and talks like Peter Lorre. His full name is Edgar E. Gore, as in Igor, Dr. Frankenstein’s original hunchback assistant in the 1931 movie. Edgar says he’ll spill the beans unless Victor teaches him how to perform the miracle. Reluctantly, Victor consents. In the attic lab, again on a rainy night, they bring a dead fish back to life. However, something goes wrong with the experiment and the fish, though alive again, is invisible.
Other boys from the school and science class are eager to win top prize at the upcoming Science Fair. They bully Edgar into revealing what he knows about Victor’s experiments. Over the past few days other experiments performed by these classmates have gone horribly wrong, resulting in injury.
Word spreads fast through the town that the eccentric science teacher is inciting the students to perform dangerous experiments. A lynch mob forms. Well, not one with torches ready to burn him to death, but a group of angry parents with a lynch mob mentality. Hastily, a meeting at the school is assembled for the public. Worried and distraught parents attend. On stage the town’s mayor announces that the teacher has been sacked. All parents but Victor’s are relieved. This foreign menace has been removed from the school and can no longer corrupt our children with his weird, eccentric and ‘foreign’ ideas.
But before Rzykruski departs he is called to the stage to explain and defend himself. Tactless, condescending and judgemental, he is no diplomat, politeness and popularity not being items he prizes. He says this to his audience:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I think the conclusion here is that you are all very ignorant. Is that the right word, ‘ignorant’? I mean ‘stupid’, ‘primitive’, ‘unenlightened’. You do not understand science, so you are afraid of it. Like a dog is afraid of thunder or balloons. To you, science is magic and witchcraft because you have such small minds.” [gasp from the audience] “I cannot make your heads bigger, but your children’s heads, I can take them and crack them open. This is what I try to do, to get at their brains!”
Then, demented laughter from the mad science teacher as the audience again gasps.
Rzykruski is replaced by the gym teacher, a rotund young woman with little going on upstairs, meaning between the ears. That figures: the way of education in America, I suppose.
Out in the car park Victor says goodbye to his beloved science teacher. Rzykruski sees that Victor is sad and tries to console and encourage him. First he complains that people want science only because of what it can bring them. They don’t care to understand what it is and how it works. They don’t ask questions, always a sign of missing curiosity. Before driving away and out of Victor’s life, he leaves this kernel of wisdom with his bright young student:
“Science is not good or bad, but it can be used both ways. That is why you must always be careful.”
Previously he has also told Victor that science is not conducted solely with the head. You have to have heart too. You have to love knowledge and learning and the wonderful things they bring. Science is a tool that can help us. Thus science is our friend, not the enemy.
Victor intuitively knows all this to be true. And now he knows it experientially too. It was electricity, not wishful thinking or superstition, that brought life back to Sparky. It was knowledge and understanding of electricity and nature and how they work that helped perform the miracle.
We are left with such consoling thoughts by the film. Though on the surface it looks a childish entertainment (puppets and figurines filmed in stop-action black-and-white), its wisdom and humanity run deep. It doesn’t apologise for what science has given us. It celebrates it.