By Gary Murray
Starring the voice talents of Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short and Martin Landau
Written by John August and based on characters by Tim Burton
Directed by Tim Burton
Running time 87 min
MPAA Rating PG
Selig Film Rating FULL PRICE
Tim Burton is a macabre film maker. Some of his works have been Beetlejuice, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Edward Scissorhands, Sweeny Todd and Ed Wood. His company has made some great creepy animated films such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach and Corpse Bride. The latest animated film to come from the warped mind of Mr. Burton is Frankenweenie.
The story of Frankenweenie is loosely based on the Universal monster film Frankenstein. Young Victor (Charlie Tahan) is a movie-making kid who prefers to work in his attic than play outside. Mom and Dad Frankenstein (Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short) worry about a son who has no other friend than his dog Sparky (who looks like the pooch on Family Dog).
One day, Sparky is hit by a car and dies. This destroys young Victor. When the new science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau) shows the class the strength of electricity, it sparks an idea into young Victor. He digs up Sparky and re-animates it.
The film follows the formula of the original Frankenstein with a good portion of Bride of Frankenstein thrown in. Along the way, there are references to just about every other monster film that has screened for the last 70 years. When Edgar ‘E’ Gore (Atticus Shaffer) figures out Victor’s plans, he forces the young scientist to re-animate a gold fish. This starts a flash of other pets who become re-animated in a reference to just about every great 1930s Universal horror creature.
The family lives in New Holland, a place that looks like 1950’s Los Angeles with a solid cross of old horror movie clichés. All of the kids in the village are arch-types of monsters from every generation. There are the Japanese kids who show up in giant rubber monster films to the creepy little girl who never blinks. The town is run by Mr. Burgermeister who looks suspiciously like a character from the animated classic Santa Claus is Coming to Town. The references to beloved films just go on and on.
The voice cast is credible with some major comics taking some roles. Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara are both veterans of SCTV and still work well together. The biggest praises have to go to Tim Burton company actor Martin Landau as Mr. Rzykruski. Channeling the ghost of Vincent Price, this master thespian gives a voice reading for the ages.
Burton takes a major chance by making the film in glorious black and white, a brave choice that makes perfect dramatic sense. Some people will be slightly put-off by a film that is cutting edge in 3D and in old-style monochrome but—like Young Frankenstein—it makes narrative sense.
Though some people may not get all the references like the girl next door named Elsa Van Helsing, I loved just about every moment of Frankenweenie. I consider the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein as two of the best films of all time and this is a loving tribute to the films I grew-up on. This is a rarity, a film that I will own when it comes out on DVD.