In 1984, Tim Burton created a live-action short that featured a young boy named Victor Frankenstein, so distressed at losing his dog Sparky that Victor finds a way to bring his beloved pet back to life.
Turn forward the clock nearly 30 years, and filmmaker Tim Burton has created the full-length feature he always wanted Frankenweenie to be. Gone is the live action, in it's place a stop-motion animation film so meticulous in detail that it felt like I was watching living, breathing actors. The 2012 Frankenweenie has a similar feel to it's predecessor, but the story is much more fleshed out.
Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan) is a young boy who bears more than a resemblance to Edward Scissorhands, and loves both science and his dog Sparky. He even creates home movies that revolve around his spotted pooch. Victor's dad (voiced by Martin Short, who takes on 3 roles) wants Victor to expand his horizons, and insists that he join a baseball team. This leads to the unfortunate – though temporary – demise of Sparky.
Aching to bring his dog back, Victor seizes on a science experiment inspired by his teacher Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau), a character who is an obvious nod to Vincent Price. Victor runs home from class, taking every electric appliance from his kitchen that he can get a hold of. That night, he digs Sparky's body up as well.
While the "rebirth" of Sparky is pretty seamless (no pun intended), other classmates take the idea for themselves, leading to disastrous results. The scene where these undead pets rampage the New Holland Dutch Day celebration contains many references to well-known films, including Godzilla, The Birds, and Gremlins.
The film is often a dark one, and young children may not be able to understand the concept of death (and bringing animals back from the dead). But Sparky's demise is handled in a sensitive way, and there is a lot of humor to be found woven throughout the story. Sparky even has a lady friend, Persephone, the poodle next door who eventually receives a Bride of Frankenstein hair treatment. My favorite character in the film – next to Sparky, of course – is Mr. Whiskers, a cat with hypnoptic eyes and an even bigger purr.
I recommend Frankenweenie for families with kids who are a little older, unless parents don't mind having a serious discussion with their children about death if the subject arises. It isn't unusual for Disney to have life-and-death sequences in their films, but this is a pervasive theme in Frankenweenie.
That said, I give Frankenweenie an A-. I loved the film, and and I could watch Sparky and Mr. Whiskers all day long! It is clear that this is a labor of love for Burton, and if you've ever seen the Tim Burton museum exhibit, you can tell that some of Victor's experiences are based on Burton's childhood in California.
We also have a short article about the Frankenweenie press conference at Comic-Con, which we sent a reporter to a few months back.
Frankenweenie is rated PG.