Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Review: Sparky Zaps Uninspired "Frankenweenie"

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 40 (of 2013) by Leroy Douresseaux

Frankenweenie (2012) – Black and White
Running time: 87 minutes (1 hour, 27 minutes)
MPAA – PG for thematic elements, scary images and action
DIRECTOR: Tim Burton
WRITER: John August (based on the screenplay by Leonard Ripps, which was based on an original idea by Tim Burton)
PRODUCERS: Allison Abbate and Tim Burton
EDITORS: Mark Solomon
COMPOSER: Danny Elfman
Academy Award nominee

SCI-FI/COMEDY/FAMILY with elements of horror

Starring: (voices) Charlie Tahan, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Atticus Shaffer, Winona Ryder, Robert Capron, James Hiroyuki Liao, and Conchata Ferrell, with Dee Bradley Baker and Frank Welker

Frankenweenie is a 2012 black and white, stop-motion animation film, presented in 3D, from director Tim Burton. This sci-fi family film is a remake of Burton’s 1984 live-action short film, also entitled Frankenweenie. Frankenweenie the movie is a parody of and pays homage to Universal Pictures’ 1931 film, Frankenstein (an adaptation of Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus). Frankenweenie is the story of a boy scientist who brings his dead dog back to life.

Frankenweenie focuses on kid filmmaker and budding scientist, Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan). Victor and his parents, Susan and Edward Frankenstein (Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short), live in the quiet town of New Holland. After his dog, Sparky (Frank Welker), is hit by a car and killed, Victor falls into a depression. Inspired by his teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau), Victor comes up with an idea to revive Sparky’s corpse. Bringing his beloved Sparky back to life, however, has unintended and monstrous consequences.

Screenwriter John August has written two mediocre Tim Burton films, Big Fish and Corpse Bride. He also wrote Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but the screenplay was not the film’s strong suit. August almost wrote a third mediocre Burton film, Frankenweenie, but there are some elements in the movie’s second half that do the heavy lifting of making this at least a good movie.

As in his best films, Burton focuses on the misfits, and since Frankenweenie is filled with misfits and oddballs, it should be a great film. But Frankenweenie isn’t great, and that is because many of the characters just aren’t that interesting or engaging. It takes practically the entire picture for Victor Frankenstein to come to life, and his mom and dad are cardboard cutout versions of parents from 1950s television sitcoms. The flat monotone voice performances from much of the cast don’t help.

There are two good human characters, neither of which have enough screen time, as far as I’m concerned. There is the sly Edgar “E” Gore (Atticus Shaffer), a hunch-backed kid who would have made a nice sidekick for Victor. Next is the Vincent Price-inspired Mr. Rzykruski, who delivers this movie’s best moment in a speech before a mob-like gathering of “concerned” parents.

The star is Sparky, or, at least, Sparky should have been the star. I think this movie would be much better if it were told from the re-animated dog’s point-of-view. Sparky is proof that when used wisely, a dog can be both the star and the saving grace of a movie. There are also a few science-created monsters that liven up Frankenweenie’s last act.

Filming this movie in black and white was the wrong decision. I know that the black and white choice had to do with all the movies to which Frankenweenie pays homage, but who cares? Referencing Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein has been done to death. Color would have made this movie visually pop on the screen, and this often-flat flick needed some pop. Animated films, even stop-motion, are best in color.

What does give this movie some pop is the musical score by Danny Elfman, a long-time collaborator with Burton. Elfman’s score is a lovely amalgamation of textures, styles, moods, and, if you can imagine it, colors. As the story advances, I could feel Elfman imposing his will on the movie. This is his best work in years.

So Mr. Burton: no more John August, no more black and white, and no more references to the films and pop culture that filled your childhood and apparently left an indelible mark on you. Your desire to parody and to homage hurt Frankenweenie.

6 of 10

2013 Academy Awards, USA: 1 nomination: “Best Animated Feature” (Tim Burton)

2013 BAFTA Awards: “Best Animated Film” (Tim Burton)

2013 Golden Globes, USA: “Best Animated Film”

Monday, June 10, 2013

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