Susan Granger’s review of “Frankenweenie” (Walt Disney Films)
Halloween comes early this year, as Tim Burton (“The Nightmare Before Christmas,” “The Corpse Bride”) delights fans of the morbid and macabre with this black-and-white, Gothic tale about a boy and his dog.
Shy, filmmaker/scientist Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) lives with his parents (voiced by Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short) and his faithful bull terrier, Sparky, in the Dutch-influenced 1970s suburban town of New Holland. One fateful day, when Victor hits a baseball into the street, Sparky chases it and is killed by a passing car. His parents try to soothe grieving Victor with the usual platitudes about Sparky living forever in his heart but that’s little comfort to the distraught child. So when his elementary-school science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau), demonstrates in class how a dead frog can be seemingly revived, Victor raids the pet cemetery, determined to bring Sparky’s carcass back to life.
Sure enough, a lightning bolt strikes and Sparky revives, minus an anatomical part or two that has to be stitched back on. This reanimation experiment was supposed to be a secret, but Sparky’s presence is soon revealed to Victor’s neighbors and classmates, like sneering Edgar (voiced by Atticus Shaffer) and Weird Girl (also voiced by Catherine O’Hara). Soon – with the competitive science fair approaching – more creepy creatures are brought back to life – with amusing, yet subversive, mutant results.
With quirky characters inspired by classic horror films, Tim Burton originally envisioned this as a full-length stop-motion film but, due to budget constraints, he made it as a live-action short back in 1984. Now he’s utilized the labor-intensive technique of stop-motion, involving 33 different animators, each crafting five seconds of monochrome film per week.
Screenwriter John August, who collaborated with Burton on “Corpse Bride,” “Big Fish” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” cleverly fleshes out Lenny Ripps’ sketchy story, dramatically punctuated by persistent thunderstorms and Danny Elfman’s moody musical score.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Frankenweenie” is a fun-filled, spooky 9 – a weirdly wonderful animated comedy.