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Frankenweenie - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B
Acting: B
Writing: B-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+
Animation: A

It was 28 years ago that Tim Burton launched his career with a 30-minute live-action short called Frankenweenie. One year later, his debut feature, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, kicked off an unbroken string of great movies that lasted until the travesty that was the 2001 remake of Planet of the Apes. Since then, Burton's record has been a tad spotty. Nothing else has been as bad as Planet of the Apes, but few have been as good as, say, Edward Scissorhands.

The feature-length animated version of Frankenweenie, open this weekend, is in keeping with the current trend. It's good, but only as good as one can expect from a movie that elicits such mixed feelings.

Personally, Tim Burton has always been a favorite. He has a darkly comic sensibility that speaks to me. His first foray into stop motion animation, The Nightmare Before Christmas, was an instant classic in the minds of many -- including me. Then came Corpse Bride in 2005, and while not bad, it was a comparative disappointment.

The same could be said of this Frankenweenie, but for different reasons. Unlike Corpse Bride, Frankenweenie is nearly always lively and has no pacing issues. It has some delightfully macabre humor that is well in keeping with the Burton sensibility. This time, really, if there's any problem, it's the story itself. It just doesn't quite connect.

This movie is not presented as any kind of musical, which is a relief; the story isn't really suited for it. Danny Elfman, as always, composed the score, and the music here is lovely. But we're talking about a story in which a kid brings his dead dog back to life. It's rated PG, and I would add that parental guidance is strongly suggested. Maybe I've just become an old fuddy-duddy, but I can't help but wonder how many children might see this movie and think maybe they can bring their own dead Sparky back to life.

Because in this movie, all it takes is a good bolt of lightning through a skylight attic window, and Sparky is essentially the same lovably doofy dog he's always been. Well, except that his tail wags itself right off his butt, and Victor, the boy, has to sew it back on. There's a semi-amusing bit with Sparky attracting flies, but that's apparently where the corpse decomposition stops.

There's plenty of mayhem, but it's not at the hands (or paws) of Sparky. Rather, it's Victor's scheming classmates, who find out about Victor's little stunt and decide to do the same with their own deceased pets in an attempt to win the science fair. This results in some rather fun pet-monsters: a were-rat; a mummy hamster; a vampire bat-cat; and a T-rex sized bipedal turtle. (I'm not ashamed to admit that the one time I actually jumped out of my seat due to this movie was because of the monster turtle.)

Frankenweenie really seems to serve as little more than an excuse for such grotesqueries, and on that count, it's occasionally a kick. There's not much to the story arc, though. It's more about tongue-in-cheek homages to classic black and white horror that actually had more substance. Still, a poodle that looks like the Bride of Frankenstein is kind of funny.

The key difference between Frankenweenie and The Nightmare Before Christmas is that in the latter, the characters we are meant to root for are the monsters. The Burtonesque stick-figure shapes of these characters doesn't work as well when they are human. I found it slightly distracting, anyway. And I'm really having a hard time getting past the whole Sparky-can-be-brought-back-to-life thing. The original short film worked much better as a parody; this is a kids' film. Maybe kids today are more sophisticated than I give them credit for. But if that's the case, then even they might watch this and just roll their eyes, rather than get invested in the fate of the characters.

That said, the animation is stupendous, and the attention to detail is remarkable. I saw this movie in 2-D, though, and I truly cannot see any justification for seeing it in 3-D. I saw a reissue of The Nightmare Before Christmas in 3-D several years ago, only to discover the black and white was a hindrance to depth perception, due to all the shadows. I can only imagine the same would be the case here.

Charlie Tahan is Victor playing with lightning in FRANKENWEENIE.

Overall: B
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