“Frankenweenie” is one of the best films of the year for three main reasons: 1.) The story is emotional, funny and relatable 2.) The stop-motion animation is creative and visually perfect and 3.) director and visionary storyteller Tim Burton is back in full form.
In 1984, Burton wrote and directed a live-action, black and white short titled “Frankenweenie,” starring Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern. Burton certainly pays homage to the 1931 film, “Frankenstein,” based on Mary Shelley’s novel of the same name and the short remains a beloved Burton fan favorite to this day.
However the original “Frankenweenie” was not considered a success at first. Walt Disney Pictures fired Burton after the film was completed, claiming he wasted their resources on something that was too scary for young viewers. It was only after Burton became famous because of his films like “Batman” and “Edwards Scissorhands,” that Disney released the censored version on VHS. The full uncensored version of the film can be found on “The Nightmare Before Christmas” Blu-ray and DVD.
“Frankenweenie” tells the story of Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan) and his precious dog and best friend, Sparky. Victor is an introvert, the class weirdo and absolutely loves science. Victor exceeds in school, but not so much at sports, so when the time comes to play baseball along with the kids in his class, Victor dreads it. His parents, Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein (voiced by Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara) come to cheer on Victor and they bring Sparky for some extra support. When Victor hits one out of the park (literally), Sparky gets loose, chases the ball out in to the street and gets hit by a car.
The family bury Sparky in a pet cemetery, and Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein try to help Victor move forward as best they can, but Victor can’t accept his dog’s death. One day in science class, Victor’s professor, Mr. Rzykruski (an amazing voice performance by Martin Landau) demonstrates how electricity can jolt a dead animal’s joints, putting the idea in Victor’s head, that with enough electricity, he can bring Sparky back to life.
With Burton-esque storytelling and an incredible score by composer Danny Elfman, the scene where Victor brings Sparky back to life, patched-up and all, is one of the film’s best.
It’s fantastic to see Burton get back to his roots and create a movie that he can all his own. For a long time, the darkly comic and pop-goth director had been adapting other’s stories and Burton-fying them, like 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland” or this year’s “Dark Shadows,” which was a complete bore. “Frankenweenie” stands alongside his other original films like “Edward Scissorhands” and “Corpse Bride.”
The director shot the stop-motion animation film in 3D and the depth of the “Frankenweenie” world shows beautifully onscreen. Things aren’t hitting you in the face or bouncing out at you, the viewer is taken into an alternate world and we feel like we are a part of Victor’s family.
There are several fantastic voice performances in this film. Atticus Shaffer, who voices Victor’s strange, hunchback friend, Edgar Gore (E. Gore, get it?); Catherine O’Hara, who voices Mrs. Frankenstein, the Gym Teacher and Weird Girl, who eyes alone would most likely scare the living daylights out of a small child; and Winona Ryder, who voices the slightly depressive girl-next-door, Elsa Van Helsing.
Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie” is one of the best films of the year because it does things that not all films can do: it touches your heart, it’s unforgettable and proves why dogs are man’s best friend.