Starring Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short and Charlie Tahan. Written by John August, Tim Burton and Leonard Ripps. Produced by Allison Abbate and Tim Burton. Directed by Tim Burton.
The irony behind Disney's Frankenweenie is that the very company that fired a young Tim Burton back in 1984 – for making a film that was, in their eyes, too dark and frightening for children – would remake that very same movie in 3D format and release it to great acclaim in 2012.
A short film when it was originally created, Frankenweenie has been totally remade and amped up (Disney has the means to do such things, obviously), while still staying true to its medium of black-and-white stop-motion animation and hair-raising humor, resulting in a fantastic, visually-striking film fit for both children and adults. Produced and directed by Burton, it retains his characteristic creepy, arabesque and whimsical tones but is still entirely fun, heart-warming (I won't lie, I may or may not have gotten a little teary-eyed at the end) and entirely appropriate for kids.
There are two elements to Frankenweenie that make it visually striking (besides the tried-and-true abilities of Burton and Art Director Tim Browning). The first being that it is a black-and-white film (which, before even seeing the movie, should foreshadow the homage that it pays to classic film), something rarely used in the modern movie industry – and even more rare amongst animated films. The second is that, even perhaps in the day and age of wondrous technology and digital animation, there is something so much more engaging and impressive about stop-motion animation. The fact that this is a 3D movie, which is an awful phenomenon that has overwhelmed and inundated the industry in the past couple years, actually works beautifully in conjunction with the stop-motion visuals. The characters and overall optical impression that are bestowed upon the viewer truly are that much more impactful because they are presented in a 3D format.
It is also worth mentioning that proper scores, soundtracks and music are things that actually should go entirely unnoticed while viewing a movie – they should blend in with the scene, not stand out and distract – and there are few that do it better, and more complimentary within Burton's work, than Danny Elfman.
The plot of Frankenweenie is simple and timeless, making it accessible to any audience. Young Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) is a loner whose only true friends are science and his beloved dog Sparky. Combining the two after the poor pooch dies, he is able to bring Sparky back to life. Unfortunately, that's not the last time the experiment will be used in the cookie-cutter town of New Holland. When things go incredibly awry, Victor and Sparky must figure out how to stop the resulting disasters while staying out of harm's way. Great vocal performances by Catherine O'Hara, Winona Ryder and the rest of the cast aid in the hijinks, humor and ridiculousness that ensue.
While the 1984 original was an homage to several classic Hollywood monster films, 2012's version steps it up even further, encompassing so many themes and characters that are immediately recognizable (and extremely nostalgic) that it stays consistently interesting and clever throughout the entirety of the film – especially for adults. Dr. Frankenstein and his "monster" are obviously the central, borrowed plots, but brief nods to the Wolfman, Mummy, Dracula, Creature from the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, Gremlins (yes, this is a classic if you were born at any point in the '80s) and more all appear throughout the film. (Science teacher Mr. Rzykruski bares a striking resemblance to Vincent Price, which is undoubtedly not a coincidence.) Overall, the film is a fun romp through the annals of Hollywood monster lore. —Adam O'Connor