Burton's Black & White Delight
Published: Friday, October 5, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 5, 2012 00:10
Disney’s macabre 3D black and white romp “FRANKENWEENIE” comes just in time for Halloween. Directed by Tim Burton, this film proves his imagination is as enthralling and weird as ever. A creepy and heartfelt film with the typical Burton flair and monster movie influences, it’s one you don’t want to miss.
Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) is a young scientist who films homemade movies starring his beloved dog, Sparky. He doesn’t have any other friends besides the bull terrier, but he’s a happy, precocious kid. After Sparky’s death, Victor brings him back to life, and chaos is unleashed on the town of New Holland. A science lesson is what inspires him to resurrect Sparky, courtesy of his eccentric teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau).
Monster pets run amok in New Holland after the other children discover Sparky is alive once more. Drawing on Victor’s knowledge and lightning storms, they raise their pets from the dead and create mutant hybrids. It’s this particular element of the film that replaces the Burton whimsy we’ve all come to recognize.
Expanding on his 1984 live action short of the same name, “FRANKENWEENIE” is scary and dark, and it tugs on the heart strings too. The emotion is so raw in Sparky's death scene that you may find yourself holding back tears; I did. It’s a testament to the power of animation and, in this film specifically, the power of puppets. The core of the film rests on a boy’s love for his dog, and we’re rooting for them both throughout.
Burton has crafted a film with his usual trademarks, making it wholly familiar and still new. Mr. Rzykruski for one, is a dead ringer for Vincent Price. All of the characters are pale and wide eyed, living up to what Burton has called his limited drawing style. But they’re still wonderfully designed puppets and, in addition to looking fantastic, the characters are also distinct and endearingly odd.
The entire film is a delight from beginning to end, and it’s the characters that are partly responsible. The cast includes Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara, who provide voices for three characters each. Short is Ben Frankenstein, Victor’s father; Mr. Bergermeister, New Holland’s unpleasant mayor; and Nassor, one of Victor’s classmates and rivals who resembles Frankenstein’s monster. He truly shines in the latter role, as his menacing accent matches Nassor’s personality. O’Hara plays Susan Frankenstein, Victor’s mother; a deranged gym teacher; and Weird Girl, who has abnormally large eyes and often delivers ominous pronouncements to the other children with her cat, Mr. Whiskers. O’Hara’s voice work is stellar.
Rounding out the cast is Atticus Shaffer as hunchback Edgar E. Gore, and another Burton regular Winona Ryder as Victor’s kind and somber neighbor, Elsa Van Helsing. The only blip in this cast of hilarious and entertaining characters is Toshiaki (James Hiroyuki Liao), another rival of Victor who comes across almost entirely as an Asian stereotype. There’s also Christopher Lee playing Dracula.
“FRANKENWEENIE,” in its splendid black and white, is sweet and tender, but its humor and monster movie vibes elevate it from simply a whimsical little fantasy about the dead. While some jaded critics will negatively cite recycled elements from previous Burton creations, it’s important to note that this film is still innovative.
Rated PG for some frightening and intense moments, “FRANKENWEENIE” is spooky, hilarious fun for the whole family and comes alive in theaters this Friday.