Directed By: Tim Burton
Voice Cast: Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan, Atticus Shaffer, Winona Ryder, Robert Capron, James Hiroyuki Liao
I swear, the older I get, the more of a baby I become. “Frankenweenie” clocks in at 87 minutes; I cried for 70.
Victor (Charlie Tahan) lives in the quaint town of New Holland with his parents (Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short) and his best buddy, his dog Sparky. Victor may have to leave Sparky in the backyard while he’s off at school, but otherwise, they’re inseparable. Sadly, that means Victor is right by Sparky’s side when something terrible happens and no, I can’t even bear to write it.
However, after an inspiring science lesson from Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau) about lightning, Victor gets an idea. He builds a contraption in his attic, hoists Sparky up into a lightning storm and zap! Sparky’s alive! Victor and Sparky are happily back together again, but, shortly after, word gets around and reincarnated animals run amok.
Clearly Sparky bites it within the first few minutes of the movie, and while I was pretty busy wiping tears away for the rest of the film, I did manage to catch a stellar dose of incredible animation, charming characters, a heartwarming (and breaking) story and a pitch perfect score.
From the moment the altered Disney logo hits the scream, “Frankenweenie” is downright mesmerizing. The detail of every character, animal and set is wildly impressive, everything having a sense of innocence but depth at the same time. As with most of Burton’s animated films, these aren’t colorful, cartoonish people and creatures bopping around. Some are innocent children, but their sunken eyes and exaggerated features give the piece an innate sense of sadness, something that intensifies the emotional power of the movie tenfold. The black and white has a similar effect, giving the stop motion animation a more tangible feel.
Was the 3D necessary? Not really, but the story is absorbing enough that it isn’t distracting. The core concept is quite genius – boy and his dog are reunited. The challenge is expanding that idea into a full feature and Burton certainly pulls it off. With Victor in the spotlight, the charm of his relationship with Sparky is present throughout, but that still leaves more than enough room for odd yet unforgettable supporting characters and shenanigans.
Mr. Rzykruski is one of few adult standouts, Landau’s voice performance filled with over the top monologues, but ones with a surprising amount of truth and depth to them. O’Hara and Short make for a nice assortment of other adult characters, but it’s Victor’s classmates that stand out most. So, actually, both O’Hara and Short can still enjoy some praise because she voices the cat poop-loving Weird Girl and he voices the tall, dark and creepy Nassor. Robert Capron makes for an ideal choice for the tubby Bob while James Hiroyuki Liao gets a number of unforgettable one-liners as Toshiaki. All colorful characters, but the best of the bunch is definitely Weird Girl and another odd young specimen, Edgar. Similar to Capron, Atticus Shaffer’s voice is quite obvious, but it suits the role so well that it’s both fun to be able to match the voice to the actor and enhances the character.
“Frankenweenie” really is the Tim Burton throwback we’ve all been waiting for. Enough non-Edward Scissorhands Johnny Depp, crazy costumes and lame reimaginings. We’re back to original material with a hefty dose of eerie, rousing fun. However, as an intense animal lover I do feel the need to warn the equally big babies out there; “Frankenweenie” can be a tough watch. It’s upsetting to see anything bad happen to a helpless animal and, of course, we get that right up front in act one. While things do lighten up and become quite fun when Victor and Sparky are reunited, seeing poor Sparky all stitched up can make that heartache linger. On the other hand, the fact that I was able to enjoy and appreciate “Frankenweenie” amidst the waterworks goes to show it’s the whole package – a piece that’s a ton of fun, but also one that packs the emotional punch to give a good tug on any animal lover’s heartstrings.
Voice Acting: B+