Review: "Frankenweenie" Is a Very Tim Burtony Kind of Film
Victor Frankensteinn (that’s Frahnkunshteen! … No, no it isn’t) is a lonely young boy. He lives in a colorless world, in a faceless suburb called New Holland filled with bland adults and weird children. His parents are mostly oblivious, and his next door neighbor, Mr. Bergermeister, the town’s mayor, just plain doesn’t like Victor or anyone else he feels is upsetting the town. Victor’s only friend is his dog, Sparky. Sparky is an adorable mutt of unknown background who Victor loves with all his might. Victor, though a quiet kid, is also something of a scientist and movie maker and general eccentric. He has no great loves, no hobbies outside of the house. Just him and his dog, and the town’s weird lightning every night. In fact it’s almost like New Holland is a completely different town at night.
That wouldn’t make for much of a movie, though, so something has to interrupt the proceedings. Unfortunately for Victor, it comes in the form of his poor dog getting run over by a car during Victor’s first baseball game. Victor, being a scientist, and because the movie as a whole is a direct Frankenstein homage, decides that the best thing he can do is to dig up Sparky and hook him up to an electrical rig to try to bring Sparky back to life. Miracle of miracles, it works! Not without its hitches, of course. Sparky is a little on the falling-apart side, and of course there’s that whole “you raised the dead?!” thing. Victor does his best to keep Sparky a secret, but you can’t really keep that kind of thing secret all that long. And when it gets out, all hell, and former pet cemetery occupants, breaks lose.
Frankenweenie is a very Tim Burton-esque film. Burton makes weird movies. Creepy movies. Movies filled with weird and creepy people. Frankenweenie is full of weird and creepy people, mostly the kids this time. Every … single … one of them is creepy. Quiet girl next door and niece to the Mayor, Elsa Van Helsing, is creepy. Almost but not-quite friend and local hunchback Edgar Gore is creepy. Classmates Bob, Toshiaki, Nassor and Weird Girl With a White Cat (no she doesn’t have any other name) are all creepy. Creepy creepy creepy creepy creepy. It’s Tim Burton, it’s what he does and he’s done it quite well this time. Not perfectly, to be sure, but well.
Frankenweenie is, first and foremost, Victor and Sparky’s movie. Every other character/movie homage, they’re pretty much one in the same, exist only in relation to Victor and what he does. It may be that the brief running time, all of 87 minutes, necessitated keeping the story lean, but it leaves a lot of potentially fruitful plot lines unfulfilled. Elsa Van Helsing in particular is criminally underused. The town of “New Holland”, feeling for all the world like a long lost bit of suburban Detroit, also doesn’t really feature into the story as much as it could have. There are some bits of “small town mindedness” running through the film, but it never feels much more than set dressing. There is definitely a lot of potential for Frankenweenie to be truly great. Instead it’s merely good.
The best thing about Frankenweenie is actually Sparky. The crew behind him did an incredible job of infusing him with life. Some of the best sequences in the movie are centered on Sparky’s exploits through town. It’s very easy to forget that you’re not watching a real dog. The main extra on the disc covers the production process in London, and it goes into pretty great detail about how they made the puppets and got them all to look exactly right. It’s an incredibly exacting process involving, not only getting the aspect ratio for everything right, but the color too. Apparently the process of creating a black-and-white movie involves a lot more than just using a back and white setting on the camera.
Unfortunately, that extra (obviously a leftover from the television promotion campaign, as it clocks in at 22 minutes), is the only substantive production extra in the set. It does also include Tim Burton’s original 30-minute Frankenweenie short from 20 or so years ago; an extra short using the puppets from the full movie; a little bit on the traveling exhibit they did of stuff from the production process; and a Plain White T’s music video. Sadly, there’s no commentary track on the actual film or a long look at the production process, and considering that this is a 4 disc set, it seems a shame that they couldn’t have put a little more into it.
Also, a severe rap on the knuckles to Disney for the packaging. They crammed 4 discs and 2 pieces of advertisements into the package, resulting in the discs themselves being stacked up 2 to a spindle. Seems like a great way to create a lot of scratched discs.