Frankenweenie (2012) Movie Review – 31 Days of Halloween
When a car hits young Victor's pet dog Sparky, Victor decides to bring him back to life the only way he knows how. But when the bolt-necked "monster" wreaks havoc and terror in the hearts of Victor's neighbors, he has to convince them that Sparky's still the good, loyal friend he was.
Welcome to Knockout Horror and to day 14 of our K-O-Ween 31 Days of Halloween feature. It’s time to really mix things up with a movie that isn’t really a horror and isn’t really scary. Much like I did with Coraline and ParaNorman last year. I wanted to include something that was for the entire family. Halloween is for everyone, after all. And what better way than with Tim Burton’s love letter to 1930’s horror – Frankenweenie.
Frankenweenie follows the story of a young boy attempting to bring his deceased pet dog, the aptly named Sparky, back from the dead. The movie pays homage to the 1931 version of Frankenstein and was filmed entirely in black and white. Interestingly enough, Frankenweenie was both the first movie to hit IMAX in black and white and the first stop motion movie to be released in IMAX. Pretty neat!
Adapted From a Tim Burton Short
Frankenweenie was adapted from a short film made by Tim Burton back in 1984. The movie starred the fantastic Shelley Duvall and a pre-Home Alone Daniel Stern as parents to a young boy who loses his dog to a road accident. Unable to cope with the grief, he sets about bringing him back to life using electricity. A charming watch in itself. The 2012 version of Frankenweenie takes the plot of its inspiration and basically turns it up to 11.
I remember watching the original version way back and enjoying it a lot. It turns out that Burton had been wanting to bring the movie to the big screen for a long time. It was only when he signed up with Disney for a two movie deal that this became reality. Burton gathered up his crew including Danny Elfman to score. And set about putting together an all star cast that includes frequent collaborator Catherine O’Hara (another Home Alone connection), Martin Short, Winona Ryder and Martin Landau among others.
Frankenweenie released around a similar time as the aforementioned ParaNorman. My fiancee and I, being massive Tim Burton fans, were super excited for it. The surprising thing is, we actually enjoyed ParaNorman a fair bit more. I think Frankenweenie will stand the test of time better, however, as it just feels a little bit more special. And that is what is key here, Frankenweenie is a special movie.
It feels utterly unique against a backdrop of CGI movies with rich colour palettes and vibrant landscapes. Even the similarly horror adjacent movies Coraline and ParaNorman don’t feel anything at all like this. Burton’s bold decision to use stop motion and to film the movie in black and white has given it an almost timeless feel.
The stop motion is slick and smooth thanks to an experienced crew that previously worked on Corpse Bride. The character designs are interesting and unique while also being distinctly Tim Burton. And the story is one that will appeal to everyone. Including those of us who feel like outsiders or just that little bit different. We can all relate to loving a pet and the heartbreak when they pass. The characters here are likable and easy to empathise with.
Funny and Charming
There’s a lot that Tim Burton tries to do with this movie and plenty that he succeeds at. Adapting a 27+ minute short into a feature length movie is no mean feat. It stands a something of a testament to the writing of Burton, Leonard Rips and John August that the movie is consistently funny throughout. It doesn’t provoke as many big laughs as ParaNorman but will have you chuckling frequently.
The endless nods to Mary Shelley’s original story of Frankenstein and a bunch of horror movies from the past will have you scouring every scene for detail. It’s awesome stuff and there are even a few nods here and there to Burton’s own movie making history. The core story of a boy desperate to be reunited with his pet dog is just as strong as it ever was. The issues only really start to come in when attempting to stretch this plot point out.
A Few Slip Ups
Frankenweenie drags its feet on a number of occasions. There are parts of the movie where the necessary padding is very obvious. A few of the side stories simply aren’t that interesting. Side characters that don’t deserve a ton of focus get a ton of focus and the events leading up to the over 25 minute long finale are a bit lacking. I found myself a little less invested in the story than I thought I would be. Thanks, in part, to it trailing off from the traditional Frankenstein tale and heading into a veritable parade of horror movie monsters.
Frankenweenie can feel a little bit half baked at times. Almost a little unfinished and lacking in polish. It’s a good reminder that this is Burton out of his prime. Whereas it is miles better than some of the stuff he was putting out at the time. I can’t help but wonder what early 90’s Tim Burton would have done with Frankenweenie. With that being said, its undeniable charm, gorgeous animation and completely unique aesthetic make it an easy recommend. There really isn’t much like it.
Final Thoughts and Score
Frankenweenie is a funny, charming, unique and utterly brilliant looking stop motion that stands out from similar movies for its fun aesthetic. While not up there with some of Tim Burton’s best movies. It represented a real return to form for a director that had seemed to have lost his way a little. The all star cast are fantastic and, even though the story drags its feet at times, the nods to old school horror make this a brilliant option for Halloween family viewing.