Release date: February 25th, 2013
Running time: 87 minutes
Director: Tim Burton
Writers John H. August
Compser: Danny Elfman
Cast: Charlie Tahan, Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Robert Capron, Atticus Shaffer
One of the most traumatic and painful events in a child’s life, apart from the death of a parent or sibling obviously, is the death of a pet. Whether it’s a dog, cat, hamster or whatever, for years that beloved animal would’ve been with them, sharing in every adventure – either real or imagined – as they grow up together. To come home from school one day and discover those days will never be experienced again except in memories, is a cruel blow we somehow learn to cope with.
This is not necessarily the case for Victor Frankenstein in Tim Burton’s wonderfully macabre tale of Frankenweenie, a remake of his 1984 short film of the same name that’s loosely modelled on the Frankenstein legend created by Mary Shelley, as well as the 1931 film starring Boris Karloff.
Victor, voiced by Charlie Tahan, is a young filmmaker and scientist who lives with his parents and dog Sparky. One day he’s encouraged by his father to take up an interest in sports – an attempt to get him outside more – so Victor has a go at baseball and after hitting his first home run, Sparky leaps after the ball and is promptly squished by an oncoming car in the street. Devastated by the sudden loss of his best friend, Victor’s gets an inspired idea while in class one day and hatches a plan to bring Sparky back to life.
Waiting until night time, he goes to the graveyard where he digs up the poor dog’s bones and brings them back home with him to his makeshift laboratory in the attic where he tries to reanimate Sparky. The stormy night brings with it a lot of thunder and lightning, perfect conditions if you’re trying to bring a dead dog back to life. Using ropes and pulleys, Victor hoists Sparky’s lifeless body up through the roof and after receiving several jolts he springs back to his former self – complete with stitches, bolts and a handful of buzzing flies.
However, when Sparky catches sight of the wide-eyed neighbourhood cat, off he goes on another chase and is spotted by Victor’s hunchbacked classmate Edgar Gore (Atticus Shaffer) who ends up blackmailing him for his secrets on how to raise the dead. But Victor’s not quite a pro yet and though they experiment on a dead goldfish, it turns invisible instead of coming back to life. Unable to keep quiet about what they’ve been getting up to, Edgar blabs to the other kids at school and before long there’s a group of bullies who want to resurrect their dead pets and show them off at the New Holland science fair.
Unfortunately when they get their hands on Victor’s reanimation formula their own experiments go terribly wrong, turning various deceased animals into monsters that wreak havoc on the town. Together with Victor’s parents discovering what he’s done to Sparky, he’s got his hands full as he tries to rectify the situation. Among those affected is Elsa van Helsing (Winona Ryder), Victor’s neighbour and the town mayor’s niece whose cat Mr. Whiskers was turned into a vampire when he held a dead bat while it was being electrocuted. When she’s carried off to the windmill by him the townspeople quickly place the blame for all these events on Sparky, resulting in an angry mob and the infamous fire we know from the legendary story.
Filled with delightfully ghoulish creatures and a dark sense of humour, Frankenweenie’s the first Time Burton film I’ve enjoyed in a long time. Seeing the monsters rampaging through the small town immediately recalled many of the creature features I saw as a kid and it helps a lot that the film’s shot in black and white, adding to the vintage cult feeling. As Victor and Sparky rush into the burning windmill to save Elsa, it’s an ending we can all predict but, especially if we’re familiar with Mary Shelley’s story, but seeing it played out in stop motion with Burton’s characters was a real visual and emotional treat – reanimating my interest in him as a filmmaker.
The founder of Static Mass Emporium and one of its Editors in Chief is a composer and music producer with a philosophy degree. Static Mass is where he lives his passion for film and writing about it. A fan of film classics, documentaries and World Cinema, Patrick prefers films with an impeccable way of storytelling that reflect on the human condition.
You can find his music on Soundcloud .