frankenweenie. Loving your pet piece by piece.

Stars: (voices of) Charlie Tahan, Winona Ryder, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Tom Kenny, Atticus Shaffer, Catherine O'Hara, Christopher Lee and James Hiroyuki Liao.
Director: Tim Burton
Scriptwriter: John August
Cinematography: Peter Sorg
Composer: Danny Elfman
Stop Action Animation
Rating: PG
Running Length: 90 minutes

Tim Burton (Batman, Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas) loved his pet dog and years ago, did a B & W short film about him called Frankenweenie. It's about bringing a dead animal back to life. Now, Burton has gone full-length with the off-the-wall story, black and white stop-action animation, with Danny Elfman's music---and bring handkerchief to theater. Along with humor there is poignancy and tenderness. This is a gentle parody on the Frankenstein book/film (book author Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley) complete with name of the family (Frankenstein), a friend who looks like Igor, a science teacher who looks like Dracula and the cemetery (shades of Stephen King,) oh, and lest I forget, several convenient thunder storms.

Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) is a loner who loves science and his pet dog Sparky. The dog, in turn, also likes the black poodle next door who belongs to Elsa van Helsing (Winona Ryder). Her friend is the strange looking weird Girl with white cat named Mr. Whiskers, who says the cat is psychic. Victor's friend, Edgar (Atticus Shaffer) pretends to like Victor, but really wants to win the school's science project award. Victor is always a top contender, along with a rival, Toshiaki (James Hiroyuki Liao). Their beloved science teacher (Martin Landau) inspires the kids to greatness, especially with jolting a dead frog to muscle spasms with electricity. They live in a town with a Dutch motif. When Sparky is accidentally killed, Victor is in mourning. He remembers the science project and electricity, so gathers mechanical things (waffle iron) to help him bring Sparky back. A convenient electrical storm, hole in the roof, hoist to take deceased dog above the roof, and a lightning bolt do wonders. Sparky is back, though he is sewn together haphazardly, has bolts in his neck, a tail regularly falls off as does an ear, and when he drinks water, it leaks through all of his stitches. Still, Victor has his friend back, and the poodle next door has her beau. All of this does not go unnoticed and soon Edgar and Toshiaki are prowling around to learn about electricity and storms and start bringing all sorts of things to life including raiding the local pet cemetery (the animals aren't always normal now). You can imagine the state of the town with dead/alive creatures running amok. What to do?

The black and white filming and stop action adds a certain somber feeling to the film, so reminiscent of the 1930's movies of horror. The characters are a play on horror characters and their names (van Helsing, Frankenstein, Mr. Bergermeister, Sparky). The characters also have depth, so when enlarging this film from the original short, you see Edgar as a small boy with crooked teeth who is bullied by Toshiaki. Elsa is also bullied, by her uncle, Mr. Bergermeister (also the mayor) who makes her wear a Dutch Girl outfit complete with a crown and candles aflame (she asks about fire safety and he says "Never mind."), and parents who try to understand their son and his love for the pet dog. There are scary images, however, so this film may not be suitable for children under the age of eight.

However, the real star of the film is Sparky. Tim Burton gives us a happy dog, in life and not-quite alive, who loves his owner, plays with his ball, has a girlfriend (they touch noses) and when separated from the family is frightened and lonely. When he is lost, you feel the loss, too, and want him back with Victor. Anyone who has temporarily lost a pet, or permanently, can relate. The expressions on animals and people is creative. What kind of dog is Sparky? He looks something like a terrier with a smile. Frankenweenie, indeed.

Three and a Half Tocks

Copyright 2012 Marie Asner

For more film reviews on families and animals, see the following.

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Moondance Alexander