I haven’t seen the live action short from 1984 that this movie is based on, but I have seen and liked a lot of other Tim Burton films (Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride, Edward Scissorhands, etc.) so I felt pretty confident picking Frankenweenie over Taken 2 and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The story seems like your typical Tim Burton fare:
Young Victor Frankenstein brings his dog back to life, inspiring the other students in his class to try and one-up him by creating monsters which want to destroy the town.
Frankenweenie has the same feel as Burton’s other movies, heartfelt and cute yet vaguely (and in some parts, not so vaguely) unsettling, which sets it apart from other children’s movies (except Paranorman). However, Frankenweenie falls down in the “message” department, because it doesn’t really seem to be sure what point it wants to get across, which makes it not as good as Paranorman.
The stop motion full length version of Frankenweenie expands on the story told by the original short. Young Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) is a lonely science-oriented boy whose dog Sparky is his best friend.
Sparky is one of those rare breeds of dog that look like someone stuck teeth in a perogie.
After Sparky gets hit by a car, Victor’s parents (Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short) encourage him to hold his memories of his dog close and move on. But when Victor’s new science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau) shows them that a frog’s muscles still respond to electricity after death, Victor gets an idea that makes convenient use of the town’s afternoon lightning storms.
Apparently New Holland is located in Florida.
Using the lightning, Victor is able to bring Sparky back to life, but he’s got to keep Sparky hidden because with his patched body and bolt neck, Sparky is liable to scare the pants off everyone in town. Sparky is the same as always, it’s just the people’s reactions that change, which is a commentary on how people are automatically frightened of what they don’t understand, sometimes with tragic consequences (the message of Frankenstein).
MR. RZYKRUSKI: “They like the things that science gives them,
but they do not like the questions that science asks.”
This seems like it might be the message of Frankenweenie, but there’s more going on than just Sparky’s reception among the townsfolk. Victor’s classmates, Edgar E. Gore (Atticus Schaffer), Bob (Robert Capron), Toshiaki (James Hiroyuki Liao), Nassor (Martin Short), and Weird Girl (Catherine O’Hara) all find out about Victor’s experiment and bring their old dead pets back to life so they can win the science fair. Except their experiments turn out to be horrors, and they need Victor’s help to stop them.
The rat creature isn’t even the scariest one. That honor goes to the Sea Monkeys.
Sparky himself even returns to the pet cemetery to curl up on his own grave at one point, so the message there seems like “don’t go messing around with death.” Victor’s parents even say that at one point. But then they decide that’s not really the message after all and throw in a line by Mr. Rzykruski about how you have to love your experiment for it to work out, which ruins the science theme by infecting it with magic. Love magic.
Don’t you love me enough?
So Frankenweenie is a little confused. The science doesn’t always work the same way depending on the needs of the plot and the movie doesn’t seem to know what point it wants to make. Ordinarily that would be a deal breaker for me – I have very little patience with bad writing – but I did like Frankeweenie. Why? Because it made me cry. No matter what else was wrong with it, the boy/dog bond was very strong and when bad things happen to Sparky, the movie is able to make you feel it.
Nothing says love like using your dog’s corpse as a pillow.
It’s also pretty funny, in a subtle sort of way. Nasser’s pet Colossus is a tiny hamster, and there’s a grave in the pet cemetery that reads “Goodbye Kitty.” (Get it? Hello Kitty, Goodbye Kitty?) And Weird Girl has a cat named Mr. Whiskers who predicts people’s futures by dreaming about them and then pooping their first initial.
Mr. Whiskers says you will become the next Dread Pirate Roberts
… or ride the Pirates of the Caribbean at Disney World.
But my favorite part is when Bob breaks his arm trying a stupid science experiment and Bob’s mother (Conchata Ferrell) tries to get Mr. Rzykruski drummed out of town for it. He defends himself by telling them they’re all stupid and that at least their kids have a chance because he can crack open their skulls at get at their brains.
MR. RZYKRUSKI: “I think the confusion here is that you are all ignorant.”
Therefore I will tell you to go see Frankenweenie. However, be warned that this movie will probably give smaller children (say seven or younger) nightmares because of the vaguely disturbing feel to the animation and how scary the monster animals turned out. I also wouldn’t recommend it to anyone who’s recently lost a pet, as it may reopen your wounds.