Tim Burton's 3D stop-motion film features voice work from Martin Short, Martin Landau and Winona Ryder and tells the story of a boy who brings his beloved dog back from the dead.
That Tim Burton's new film, Frankenweenie, is an expansion of a half-hour live-action piece he made for Disney in 1984 merely serves to punctuate the fact that five of the eight films the director has made since 2000 have been remakes of previous films or TV shows. Although this nominally clever take-off of Frankenstein, about a boy's successful effort to “re-animate” his late pet dog, is distinctive as the first black-and-white 3D stop-motion animated production of this new three-dimensional era, it is nonetheless imaginative in a highly familiar and ultimately tedious way. Burton's name, the 3D calling card and small-fry appeal will yield good returns in line with his previous animated productions, The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride.
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“I don't want him to turn out, you know, weird,” says Father Frankenstein, as if there were ever any choice in Tim Burton's universe. In a blandly uniform postwar suburban housing development that looks like the next town down from the one in Edward Scissorhands, skinny science geek Victor Frankenstein loses his beloved hound Sparky in an auto accident. As in the original short, the pooch is ceremoniously buried, under a large tombstone, in a creepy cemetery on a hill. But a science class demonstration of how the application of electric current can make a dead frog kick its legs gives Victor a bright idea about how inject some spark back into poor old Sparky -- which, surrounded by all manner of flashing and fritzing jerry-bilt equipment, he manages to do up in the attic on a dark and stormy night.
While frequent Burton screenwriter John August has added considerably to the limited concept of the short by inventing a whole second act in which Victor's fellow students steal his secret and thereby bring other dead animals to life, he has failed to eliminate one major irritant: Victor's compulsion not to reveal his accomplishment to his parents. Since you know it's only a matter of time until they find out, all of Victor's frantic efforts to hide his deed are extremely tiresome, which was particularly harmful to the original 1984 version.
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This time, when the other kids get out their kites, wires and electrodes to zap new life into an assortment of critters that includes a cat, rat and Sea-Monkeys, the result is a small army of monsters seemingly on loan from Gremlins, Gamara and Burton's own Mars Attacks! But while they cackle and stomp and make funny faces as they invade a festival celebration on Main Street, these beasts, working under a PG imperative, don't actually do anything particularly untoward, which is consistent with the toothless, not to mention secondhand, feeling of the entire enterprise.
There's a palpable sense of Burton's past catching up with him here; Sparky's stitched-together body recalls Edward Scissorhands, as does Victor's pronounced outsider status, while the goth kids' huge eyes and mostly spindly torsos are carry-overs from most of the director's work. Creatively, the detailed work with the stop-motion puppets, horror film-derived production design and visual effects, bizarre costumes and hair, crisply evocative monochromatic cinematography and loopy musical score are all more than commendable. But just as they pay homage to a beloved old filmmaking style, all these elements feel like second-generation photocopies of things Burton has done before. It all feels pretty rote and empty, drained of the old Burtonjuice.
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Opens: Friday, Oct. 5 (Disney)
Production: Walt Disney Motion Pictures
Voice cast: Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan, Atticus Shaffer, Robert Capron, Conchata Ferrell, Winona Ryder
Director: Tim Burton
Screenwriter: John August, based on a screenplay by Lenny Ripps, based on an original idea by Tim Burton
Producers: Tim Burton, Allison Abbate
Executive producer: Don Hahn
Director of photography: Peter Sorg
Production designer: Rick Heinrichs
Editors: Chris Lebenzon, Mark Solomon
Music: Danny Elfman
Rated PG, 87 minutes
Frankenweenie is a 1984 Tim Burton-directed short film produced by Walt Disney Pictures and co-written by Burton with Leonard Ripps. It is both a parody and homage to the 1931 film Frankenstein based on Mary Shelley's novel of the same name. It was filmed in 1983. 28 years later, Burton decided to work on a stop-motion 2012 remake of that film.
Victor Frankenstein (played by Barret Oliver) is a young boy who creates movies starring his dog, Sparky (a Bull Terrier, whose name is a play on the use of electricity in the film). After Sparky is hit by a car and killed, Victor learns at school about electrical impulses in muscles and is inspired to bring his pet back to life. He creates elaborate machines which bring down a bolt of lightning that revives the dog. Victor is pleased, but when the Frankensteins decide to introduce the revitalized Sparky to his neighbors, they become angry and terrified.
Sparky runs away, with Victor in pursuit. They find themselves at a local miniature golf course and hide in its flagship windmill. The Frankensteins' neighbors, now an angry mob, arrive on the scene, and when they attempt to use a cigarette lighter to try to see in the windmill, it is accidentally set on fire. Victor falls and is knocked out, but Sparky rescues him from the flames, only to be crushed by the windmill. The mob of neighbors, realizing their error, use their cars and jumper cables to "recharge" Sparky. He is revived, and all celebrate. Sparky falls in love with a poodle whose fur bears a strong resemblance to the hairdo of the Bride of Frankenstein and the film ends with Sparky's electricity making the words, "The End".
This short was included in the Special Edition, Collector's Edition, and Blu-ray 3D releases of The Nightmare Before Christmas and on the Blu-ray release of its remake.
Burton was fired by Disney after the film was completed; the studio claimed that he had been wasting company resources, and felt the film was not suitable for the target young audiences. The short was originally planned to be released alongside the summer re-release of The Jungle Book, its release was rescheduled with the Christmas re-release of Pinocchio on December 21, 1984. Although the film was subsequently shelved, the film played in UK cinemas in 1985 in front of Touchstone Films' Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend. The film was given a home video release in 1992. It was released as an extra, along with Vincent, on The Nightmare Before Christmas DVD; Blu-ray; and UMD.
Main article: Frankenweenie (2012 film)
Disney and Tim Burton produced a full-length remake using stop motion animation, which was released on October 5, 2012 in Disney Digital 3D and IMAX 3D. The original film is included as a bonus feature on the Blu-ray home video release.