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Zimbio Review - 'Frankenweenie,' Tim Burton is Back


(Disney | Getty Images)
The Bottom Line
Should you see it?
Yes.

Why?
It hits all the right chords. Equally hilarious as it is touching, Tim Burton's made his best film since Ed Wood.
Whatever you may think of Tim Burton's films and his obsessive adherence to the things he loves, you must admit, when he gets it right, there's few better. His three-year run from 1988 to 1990 that saw the releases of Beetlejuice, Batman, and Edward Scissorhands in succesion lives in film lore and marked the writer/director/producer as a visionary for all-time. He is one of the few filmmakers today with an actual style. Despite some missteps along the way, Burton's heart has changed little since those magical years, and Frankenweenie is proof.

For those of us who've waited since 1990 for another rapturous original Burton fantasy, anxiously twiddling away while the director took on one big budget adaptation after another (Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Sweeney Todd, Alice in Wonderland, Dark Shadows), the wait has finally ended. The director had to return to his roots to create his newest, Frankenweenie, and thank goodness he did. By returning to the seemingly boundless world of stop-motion animation, Burton has made his best movie since Ed Wood in 1994, and perhaps since Johnny Depp was sharing scenes with the immortal Vincent Price.

Although Burton's story uses the classic Mary Shelley tale of man and monster, Frankenstein, as inspiration, the film is wonderfully original. Set in fictional New Holland, a pee wee Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) lives with his mom (Catherine O'Hara), dad (Martin Short), and his plump little Jack Russell terrier Sparky. Like another pint-sized stop-motion hero of this year in ParaNorman, Victor is a film fanatic. Frankenweenie begins with Victor's guerilla-style Godzilla movie (also in 3D) starring Sparky wreaking havoc on an ingenious disposable city. This little film within a film is fantastically conceived and a reminder that Burton was Michel Gondry long before Gondry himself.

The film's first act is near perfect. At school we learn New Holland is struck by more lightning than anywhere (because of the town's giant windmill churning the sky into storm clouds). Victor's teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, is Burton's hero, Mr. Price, reincarnate. Voiced with seriocomic aplomb by another Burton favorite, Martin Landau, the gangly educator hovers over his classroom of little monsters and booms instructions with antique enthusiasm. You expect the children to be shaken, but they sit there unaffected, staring at the old man quietly.

The kids are pure Burton creations. Their body types are hyperbolic, created to maximum comic affect. The best thing about stop-motion animation is the fun of the dolls. Using actual inanimate objects instead of drawings adds a goofy humor and allows for greater emotional detail. Of all the characters, "Weird Girl" (O'Hara) is my favorite. She's the class outcast, a skeletal waif with bulging eyes whose little Persian cat is the town medium. The kitty shits letters of the alphabet, omens of something good or evil to come to whoever's first name begins with the letter.

Burton's best dolls are his animals. Weird Girl's kitty is fantastic-looking. Wide-eyed and purring constantly, she acts the diva as only a cat can. Sparky is just as memorable, cheerfully mischevious, barking excitedly, and following Victor endearingly at every turn. However, after Weird Girl approaches Victor at school with a skinny poo piece in the shape of a "V," it's clear our little gothic hero's life is about to get interesting.

Of course, Victor's beloved Sparky must die in order to reanimate him. The little pup meets his end chasing Victor's home run ball during a Little League game when he runs into traffic. Burton handles the scene delicately, however, never showing the corpse, and bravely depitcing a funeral at the local pet cemetary under forbidding skies. Animated films may be pigeon-holed as being for children, and many are, but the best ones deal within the realm of reality and sometimes death is a part of life (see: Bambi).

In classic Shelly fashion, Victor digs up Sparky's grave in the middle of the night and creates a makeshift laboratory in his attic. Thanks to New Holland's constant lightning storms, he easily zaps Sparky back to life, but decides to keep it all a secret. When Sparky escapes while Victor's at school, a classmate, Edgar 'E' Gore (Atticus Shaffer), sees him and blackmails Victor into teaching him how to raise the dead. With the impending science fair looming, Edgar fails to keep the secret and their other classmates force the little ogre to teach them too. When they each bring life to their own dead pets, New Holland is overrun by a slew of monstrous creations and Victor and Sparky must save the day.

Along the way, Burton reinvents Frankenstein with clever details. Victor's love interest, Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder) lives next door and her pet poodle becomes the doggie Bride of Frankenstein when she and Sparky touch noses between their shared fence and the electric terrier sends 1000 volts through her, leaving iconic white streaks in her black puppy afro. E. Gore is also memorable, cartoonishly devilish with a cheshire smile and an infectious evil glee instilled by young Shaffer's fantastic voice-work. 

Burton's penchant for the bizarre is his indelible trademark and Frankenweenie may be (gasp) the most Burton-esque film yet. Based on his own 1984 live-action short of the same name, Burton dropped the live-action angle of the original, but kept the black and white. He creates an insular world to rival Edward Scissorhands, a tiny town that's another incarnation of his hometown of Burbank, CA. He even creates his own Hollywood sign, spelling out New Holland on a hill overlooking the lights below. Burton's tendency to revert to the familiar may be seen as redundant for some, but it's part of what makes the filmmaker an original. He makes abjectly American films and keeping aspects of his universe in tact is his fluid signature.



See more photos of Winona Ryder here:
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  • Winona Ryder in 'Homefront' films in Louisiana
  • Winona Ryder in Winona Ryder Departing On A Flight At LAX
  • Winona Ryder in Winona Ryder Heads to the Airport
  • Winona Ryder in Martin Landau at the Los Angeles premiere of "Frankenweenie" the remake of director Tim Burton&squot;s famous 1984 short
  • Winona Ryder in "Frankenweenie" Premiere
  • Winona Ryder in Premiere Of Disney&squot;s "Frankenweenie" - Arrivals
  • Winona Ryder in "The Iceman" Photo Call - 2012 Toronto International Film Festival
View Winona Ryder Pictures »
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