Friday, October 12, 2012

Frankenweenie (2012)

Seen: In 3D at the Somerville Theatre in Davis Square.

Young Victor Frankenstein is a clever inventor and filmmaker whose only friend is his dog, Sparky. When Sparky is killed by a car, Victor devotes himself to bringing him back to life through SCIENCE. As students at school discover his secret, a chain of events is launched that eventually leads to re-animated mutant pets terrorizing their small town. Tim Burton's return to stop-motion animation (and original material) is an adaptation of his live-action short film from 1984.

Seriously infused with all things Burtonesque, Frankenweenie is a fun, simple tale rife with horror and pop culture references. There's an asshole neighbor who looks just like the Burgermeister Meisterburger from Santa Claus is Coming to Town (and indeed his name is Mr Burgermeister), a dog who gets Bride of Frankenstein hair, a turtle who morphs into a Gamera-esque kaiju monster, a science teacher modeled after Vincent Price, Gremlins-esque sea monkeys, and a hamster Mummy. Once I recognized the direction the film was heading (that is: turning into a mash-up monster movie), I was pretty cool with it, despite how clear it is that the entire movie is just an excuse for Burton's inner child to talk about the things he loves. Which I guess is actually kinda cute.

The animation is superb, as expected. (Side note: Have I mentioned how fucking EXCITED I am that there have been three major stop-motion films in theaters this year? Like, how fantastic is that?!) I love that the artist's touch is apparent in the characters- there are thumbprints and slight inconsistencies, as well as touches of sketchy pen/pencil drawing. The black and white palette is great, well-suited to the story and overall aesthetic, and I loved how Burton's 2-D drawing style is easily translated into 3-D figures, with the design reminding me more of his illustration work than his previous stop-motion films. Great voice acting as well, especially Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short as a range of characters, and Martin Landau as the spookily awesome science teacher Mr Rzykruski. The time period is ambiguous, sort of the updated 1950s suburbia of Edward Scissorhands, complete with stereotypically closed-minded townspeople who hate science. The creatures at the end are awesome, and honestly kind of actually scary? Mostly that cat/bat creation creeped me right the fuck out.

One of the main issues with Frankenweenie is that its premise really doesn't warrant a feature-length film. The original story is stretched out with all the monster movie and science fair stuff, but it still drags a lot. The other big issue is the weird casual racism in the character of Toshiaki. I get that he was meant to be a vessel for the Kaiju movie references, but he is also the only character of color (with lines) and all he does is conspire evilly against the protagonist and obsessively film the town's destruction, all while speaking in a very exaggerated Japanese accent. I doubt that the writers meant to be offensive, but they are ignorantly propagating a tired stereotype and it made me uncomfortable in general. I think Burton could have worked in the Japanese monster movie angle with a less stereotypical character, if he had stopped to think about it.

Anyway. I liked Frankenweenie, but it has its problems. Mostly I'm just excited for all the stop-motiony goodness that's been happening lately. And that someone made a black and white kids movie.


Pair This Movie With: The aesthetic and story are basically an amalgam of Burton's early shorts "Vincent" (one of my favorite short films ever) and "Frankenweenie", both of which are in the video below. And of course comparisons can be made to the superior ParaNorman, which was completely awesome and you should all see it this instant.


  1. Agree with just about all of your sentiments, Alex. Especially the Japanese caricature -- way, way overdone (borderline offensive).

    Again, black and white children's film = win.

  2. I wonder if the puppets and sets are actually made in grey tones or if they just shot it in B&W.

    1. we used a black and white pallet on the whole.....

  3. Sam: Glad you agree! If only they'd left out that one thing I would have liked it a lot better.

    Rich: I've seen some photos and it looks like they were in color, but sort of subdued tones. Like this one from comic-con