I suppose it’s no secret that I’m a huge Tim Burton fan. I was really excited about the release of Frankenweenie, and not just because he directed it. Frankenweenie is a feature-length stop-motion adaptation of a live action short Burton had made while working at Disney in 1984. Disney had deemed the short too dark and scary for kids at the time and actually fired Burton. It wasn’t until 1992 when Disney decided to air it on the Disney Channel (this was back when it was a pay-cable channel like HBO or Showtime, and it was actually a good channel to watch). This was how I first discovered it. I tried to watch it as many times as I could whenever it aired, and I would enjoy it again a decade later when I bought the special edition of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas on DVD. The short was included in the special features section. I would enjoy it again when I upgraded to the Blu-ray release several years later. It was on this release that I watched the intro by Tim Burton, in which he revealed that a feature-length adaptation of Frankenweenie was in the works and that it would be stop-motion animated. I could not have been more excited.
A few years later, the film was finally released. To sum it up, Frankenweenie focuses on young Victor Frankenstein and his dog Sparky, who live in the suburban town of New Holland. One day, Sparky runs into the street and is struck down by a car. Victor, sad over the loss of his best friend, becomes inspired by his science teacher and decides to bring Sparky back from the dead. Although Victor is happy to have Sparky back, some classmates soon find out about what Victor did, and attempt to replicate his experiment in the hope of outdoing him at the upcoming science fair. Unfortunately, their results were not quite what they had expected, and its up to Victor and Sparky to save the day. The film features a terrific voice cast that includes Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder, Conchata Ferrell, Atticus Shaffer as Edgar, and Charlie Tahan as Victor. Christopher Lee actually appears in the film, but in the form of archival footage. In one scene, Victor’s parents are watching TV in the living room. The movie they’re watching is 1958’s Horror of Dracula, a Hammer production which features Christopher Lee as the famous vampire.
If I had to pick only two words to describe the film, those two words would be: vintage Burton. Burton effectively returns to his roots, going back to the familiar suburban neighborhoods inhabited by oddball characters who fear the abnormal despite the fact that they themselves aren’t actually normal. The main protagonist is a loner, there are homages to classic horror and monster films (the three main examples being 1931’s Frankenstein, 1935’s Bride of Frankenstein, and 1954’s Godzilla), and visual references to past Burton films (a windmill, a gloomy atmosphere, bats, etc.). Danny Elfman provides another terrific score for Tim Burton’s latest, and surprisingly, unlike The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie is not a musical. Among the Burton story motifs that shows up is the public fear of science, illustrated in the scene where the science teacher speaks before the town about stupid people fearing science because they don’t understand it (a surprising stand-out especially considering the scenes that come later). With this particular feature, Burton has come full circle. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him not only get a Best Animated Feature Oscar nod, but to see him actually win in this category as well.