Guest Post: Frankenweenie Movie Review

POSTED: October 2, 2012

“FRANKENWEENIE” (L-R) VICTOR and SPARKY.

I am glad to introduce the first guest post of my friend Laurie Blavin, the mother of a delightful (and good friend) 4th grader, a story teller and a foodie. Running VFX Scout, a firm recruiting exclusively for the Visual Effects Industry, she was the perfect person to review the new Tim Burton animated movie, “Frankenweenie.” Because of her industry experience and insights, she always knows fun tidbits about movies and I was looking forward to reading what she thought about this one. Besides being an avid photographer, Laurie loves a good adventure, her dog Milo (who has a Facebook page), and the ocean – in it or near it. Now without further ado, Frankenweenie!

Frankenweenie at a glance

Tim Burton’s 3-D black and white, stop motion-animated, fantasy film Frankenweenie will be in theaters on October 5, 2012.  Both my 9-year-old daughter and I were very excited to see this movie. We love Tim Burton’s twisted, inventive take on the world.  Although his most recent films have not had much critical success, I am a die-hard fan and welcome his stylized vision. Frankenweenie is an homage to the 1931 film Frankenstein, which Tim Burton originally made as a short film in 1984 while working for Disney – and which ultimately got him fired.  It follows the classic story with a twist, a boy named Victor brings his best friend and beloved dog back to life after the creepy science teacher gives a lecture on the powers of electricity and lightning.

The film is laced with homages to iconic horror films with tips of the hat to such classics as Godzilla, Dracula, and Creature from the Black Lagoon to name a few. Burton also references his own past, staying true to his signature-stylized characters – huge eyes, tall skinny bodies with long legs, and a clean minimalism – previously seen in Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas.  The stitched-up dog is reminiscent of Edward Scissor Hands and the whole movie is shot in black and white like Ed Wood.

In true Tim Burton fashion, the film features a kooky, lovable band of misfits and loners, the Weird girl with her psychic cat Mr. Whiskers, Nasser who looks like a direct descendant of Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, Edgar, Toshiaki, the quirky Eastern European science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, and our hero Victor with his dog Sparky.  In the end, they must band together and depend on the guidance of loner-turned-leader  Victor in order to save the town.

Photo gallery: click to enlarge

What’s the right age for Frankenweenie?

My 9-year-old daughter thinks it would be perfect for tough seven-year-olds and up. She also warns that you should not see this movie if an animal in your family has recently passed away because it might make you emotional and sad about your pet.  My daughter doesn’t handle the sad details of life well. Because of her aversion to scary things that go bump in the night, I had braced myself for some hand gripping she surprised me. She really loved the entire film without too many heart palpitations and it is still a fantastic movie. (Full disclosure, she did end up in bed with me at 1.30 am after an unsettling dream.)

My sense is that the movie is a little intense for a family film. The boy’s dog and best friend gets hit by a car, there are a handful of scary movie references, and in the pursuit of the science prize the children go through show some very,  not kid-friendly behavior, often seeming to flirt with real life and death danger situations.  I don’t think I would bring children under the age of nine, unless they were thick skinned.

What will make kids laugh

My daughter doesn’t want to give too much away but when asked, she gushed about a few scenes from the movie. She loved when the newly-“charged” Sparky touches noses with the poodle next door and poof in an instant, her black hair has a wild jagged grey streak in it. Even if some kids or adults don’t have a reference to The Bride of Frankenstein, the gesture is still universally campy.

The scene when Sparky runs out of juice and Victor has to literally plug him in, helped her understand how important the electricity from the lightning was to bringing Sparky back to life.  However her favorite part is when Sparky drinks water and it comes squirting out of all his stitched wounds, and then he chases and catches a fly, only to see it fly out of one of his loosely stitched open gaps. That was hysterical.

About Black & White, Stop Motion and Stereotypes

My daughter typically doesn’t like to watch black and white movies with me but this movie changed her mind.  She actually didn’t even notice that it was in black and white because the look was so integrated into the story.  She is a big fan of Wallace and Gromit and Fantastic Mr. Fox so she was excited about the stop-motion animation.  She liked that it allowed the filmmaker to manipulate the characters, appearance and motion to fit their personalities. The way the characters in the film were shaped differently and moved in a distinct way, also reminded her of Corpse Bride.  She loved how Mr. Whiskers eyes, matched the eyes of his owner, Weird Girl. She asked, “why are the fat kids always dumb and the skinny kid with glasses always smart, in kids movies?” She did not like seeing those stereotypes repeated in this movie.

Just for Geeks: Stop-Motion and 3D

Personally my favorite part of the film was Victor’s homemade monster movie. It has all the quaint charm of a boy’s first attempt at stop-motion and yet was a seamless marriage of sophisticated 3D technology. I imagine an adult Tim Burton recreating one of his first childish attempts at movie making with all the tools of the 21st century at his fingertips.

The scene where Victor brings his dog back to life is a testament to Tim Burton’s imagination and his ability to integrate 3D with stop motion.  Visually stunning, a truly unique and detailed use of stop-motion with a blend of modern digital technology.  A perfect a marriage of past and present film making – much like the film itself a wink to the past and nod to the future.

A Blend of Old and New

In a funny way the movie is a literal and metaphoric resurrection. Just as Victor is trying to resurrect Sparky, his constant companion, you get the feeling that Tim Burton is resurrecting his boyhood companions too – dark theaters filled with scares, thrills and all the things that light his imagination in the first place.

Even if you are not a Tim Burton fan, this is a return to some very good film-making, fun for (almost) the whole family.

View Gallery

Comment