‘Frankenweenie’ scares up some fun
“Frankenweenie,” Tim Burton’s stop-action Disney film about a boy and his reanimated dog, is a fun little movie with some chills for youngsters and some clever bits for their parents. It breaks no new ground, but like the movie’s creepy characters, it finds interesting stuff in ground previously broken.
Young Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) is a loner, his one companion being his lovable cone-headed pooch, Sparky. Not that the human friendship pool is particularly deep. Except for the mayor’s jaded niece, Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder), the rest of the youngsters in the suburban town of New Holland are a bit off, seemingly imbued with dangerously high levels of Pugsley Addams DNA.
Victor’s dad (Martin Short) longs for Victor to fit in, so the boy reluctantly grabs a bat (the wooden kind) and joins a baseball team. But tragedy strikes during the game, and, in a flash, Victor’s beloved pet is gone forever.
Or not. Victor is a whiz at science, and with lightning strikes a regular nighttime occurrence in his neighborhood, all it takes is a little grave digging and lab work to bring Sparky back from the Great Beyond. Sparky 2.0 appears no worse for wear, except for the normal complications that arise when you’re a bloodless, electrically charged creature with sewed-on skin.
The movie is based on Burton’s 1984 half-hour film, which was live action rather than animated and was basically a canine version of the classic “Frankenstein” movies. With more time to um, flesh out the story and the freedom that stop-action animation offers, the new “Frankenweenie” goes in more directions. In its scarier second half, characters less virtuous than Victor unleash a host of creatures that recall the movie monsters of the past. We also learn that Sea Monkeys, the brine shrimp that used to be advertised on the back of comic books as adorable, intelligent pets (oh, we boomers were a gullible lot), cannot be trusted.
Ryder, who sings an ode to New Holland (and its “modest homes at modest prices”) is not the only Burton veteran in the cast. Catherine O’Hara, who played Ryder’s mother in “Beetlejuice,” is Victor’s mom, and Martin Landau (“Ed Wood“) is the manic science teacher Mr. Rzykruski. (When saying his name, think “Snap, Crackle & Pop.”). Even Sparky could be called a returnee, looking a lot like the title character in “Family Dog,” a cartoon Burton worked on for the NBC anthology series “Amazing Stories.”
Like “ParaNorman,” a stop-action film released this summer, “Frankenweenie” has not done gangbusters at the box office. Young moviegoers used to brightly colored, excessively talky cartoons might be thrown by its dialogue-free scenes and wonder why it’s in black and white. We parents can explain, though if we’re asked why we ever purchased Sea Monkeys, that might be trickier.
The movie, currently in theaters, is rated PG for thematic elements, scary images and action.
Three Stars (out of four)
Craig Marks is a cartoonist and editorial, sports and entertainment writer for the West Side Leader.
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