Frankenweenie

FrankenweenieFrankenweenie made it to the cheap theater last week so I went to see it. I didn’t know anything about it except for the poster, which led me to believe that it was an animated Frankenstein with a cute dog. I’m not sure what it says about me that I thought that was a great idea for a movie. I was a little concerned when I got inside the theater and it was filled with children. I thought back to when I saw Babe at the theater and the children acted pretty much the same as they did in the Bride of the Monster premiere in another Tim Burton film, Ed Wood. But there was nothing to worry about.

Frankenweenie is the best big budget film I’ve seen in years. In fact, I’ve started behaving the way I did when I first saw Ed Wood: I’ve started dragging friends to see it. I have a hard time believing that anyone wouldn’t thoroughly enjoy it. Yet strangely, it doesn’t have a 100% rating on MetaCritic. Then again, what do those idiot film ombudsmen know?

The film tells the story of young Victor Frankenstein, a brilliant young scientists who makes movies featuring his only real friend: his dog, Sparky. In return for allowing him to enter the science fair, Victor is forced by his father to play baseball. Victor manages to hit a home run, but Sparky chases after the ball and is killed by a car. Following a demonstration of the effects of electricity on a dead frog by his science teacher Mr. Rzykruski, Victor decides to dig up his dog and bring it back to life.

Spoiler: it works!

Extra spoiler: the movie has a happy ending, unlike Frankenstein.

Everything about the film is first rate. But the two things that really make it work are the animation design and the story. Unless you’ve been living under a rock that doesn’t allow you to get out much, you must be familiar with Tim Burton’s visual style. Frankenweenie is very much in keeping with another fine film, Nightmare Before Christmas. I think it works really well, but I can imagine there are those who have no taste and thus won’t like it.

The story moves along at an extremely brisk pace. It never gets bogged down. Twice in the film they seem to have cut connecting scenes. They jolted me, but I think the film is better to just get on with it. After all, its not like the whole Frankenstein formula is all that believable.

What I most liked about Frankenweenie was its many references to the great tradition of horror films. These are not limited to Frankenstein, although there are more than enough of those including the finale at the windmill. There is also the science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski who sounds an awful lot like Bela Lugosi but looks like Vincent Price. And at one point, Victor’s parents are watching one of the Christopher Lee Dracula movies.

But I realize that all of this is what my friend Kristen would call “movie fuck” stuff. Not everyone likes this. But if you don’t get all the movie nerd references, it won’t matter. The film is above all charming. I will certainly buy it when it comes out on DVD.

Update (10 November 2012 9:58 pm)

I just found this great article in the Examiner, Classic Horror References Bring ‘Frankenweenie’ to Life. It notes a number of things that I didn’t pick up in the film:

More subtle, but perhaps much funnier, is the lisping Nassor, whose voice—provided by Martin Short—is a parody of Boris Karloff’s performance as the undying Imhotep in The Mummy (1932). Nassor also looks very much like Karloff, and a scene in the movie even has him wrapped up like a mummy and encased in a stacking doll sarcophagus. His resurrected pet, Colossus, also highlights the mummy theme.

Later horror movies provide additional inspiration. The Weird Girl gets her creepy blonde hair and staring eyes from the inhuman children of Village of the Damned (1960), while Toshiaki clearly takes his cues from the Godzilla films of Japan. The electrified Sea Monkeys are a cross between the Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954) and the vicious critters of Gremlins (1984). Mr. Whiskers the cat is transformed into a bat hybrid monster in a scene straight out of An American Werewolf in London (1981)—watch the way that paw works the air as the limbs as reformed. Even Hammer horror king Christopher Lee makes an appearance in the movie in a brief clip from Horror of Dracula (1958), which the Frankensteins are watching on TV as Victor tries to sneak Sparky’s corpse into the house.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Frankenweenie

  1. I’ve mentioned before that I’m a big fan of cartoons and animated movies, and your description of your experience being in a theatre filled with children made me smile; I can certainly relate. One of the advantages of having a four-year-old nephew is that I can go to animated movies and not feel so creepy.

    I never got to see [i]Frankenweenie[/i] while it was in theaters, but I’ll certainly pick it up when it comes out on DVD. And speaking of big budget films, have you seen [i]Prometheus[/i]?

  2. @Mack – I haven’t seen [i]Prometheus[/i]; should I? I haven’t been that impressed by Ridley Scott of late, but he is always at least watchable.

  3. I’m a fan of the [i]Alien[/i] movies (well, the first two anyway), and I enjoyed getting a little of the back story. That being said, [i]Prometheus[/i] is more of a standalone film that takes place in the [i]Alien[/i] universe.

    Should you see it? It’s hard for me to judge another person’s taste in movies, but I think you might like it. It’s visually stunning and has some impressive acting, particularly by Michael Fassbender. It’s not without its problems, though. I didn’t much care for the ancient astronauts motif, but that is forgivable.

    One thing I liked about it was that it asks the audience questions, rather than give you all of the answers. It makes you think, and question, and wonder.

    Also, it ends on a cliff hanger. If there is no sequel I would be very surprised.

  4. @Mack – Ah. I had thought it was another of those Greek mythology movies. I’m reasonably fond of all the [i]Alien[/i] films, but I would say that Scott’s was the best. Cameron’s was good, but that last badass part kind of bugged me. The third one is better than it gets credit for. And [i]Resurrection[/i] is good, mindless Joss Whedon fun. (I like Whedon but I don’t know why he has such a great reputation; he’s a comic book writer. But [i]Firefly[/i] was damn good.) I own all of the films. Yes, I am a nerd.

    I’ll check out [i]Prometheus[/i].

  5. It isn’t a Greek mythology film, but it does reference Greek mythology. I picked up some Biblical references in places as well. For example, the planet (actually a moon) that they are on (not the same as the one in the movie [i]Alien[/i], which was LV 426) is called LV 223, which I believe is in reference to Leviticus 22:3 "For the generations to come, if any of your descendants is ceremonially unclean and yet comes near the sacred offerings that the Israelites consecrate to the LORD, that person must be cut off from my presence. I am the LORD." It appears that I wasn’t the first to make the connection. You probably don’t get it now, but you will when you see the movie.

    As for the [i]Alien[/i] films, I liked the first the best as well, and I didn’t mind the third. I have yet to see [i]Resurrection[/i], but the films tied into the [i]Alien[/i] universe that I’m not too fond of are the AVP movies.

    If you watch [i]Prometheus[/i], let me know how you like it.

  6. Oh and do you mean that you own all of the [i]Alien[/i] films? If you do and you are familiar with their story and universe, you will probably really like [i]Prometheus[/i].

  7. @Mack – I’ve never seen any of the AvP movies. Life is too short to watch such packaged garbage. What was that slasher vs. slasher film? And why those slashers? Because they "owned" them.

    Yes, I own all the [i]Alien[/i] films. I suspect I [i]will[/i] like [i]Prometheus[/i]. Check out [i]Resurrection[/i]; it is a lot of fun. Winona Ryde is adorably androgynous in it.

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