Frankenweenie Directed by: Tim Burton Cast: Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan, Atticus Shaffer, Winona Ryder Running Time: 1 hr 17 mins Rating: PG Release Date: October 5, 2012
PLOT: Inspired by his science teacher, a boy brings his dog back to life.
WHO'S IT FOR? Kids and any parents and adults who look back on classic horror movies fondly.
EXPECTATIONS: I'm taking a stand against expectations and go into movies blank these days. It saves me from feeling like Hollywood punched me in the face.
Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, and Charlie Tahan as, respectively, Mrs. Frankenstien, Mr. Frankenstien, and Victor Frankenstien: The dialogue is colorless and to the point. It adds no flavor to the film; it only furthers the plot or introduces us to characters. But that's not why we're here to see this movie: we are here for the incredible stop motion animation. You end up overlooking what people are saying in order to marvel at the artistry, and my theory is that the dialogue was vastly overlooked in favor of the physicality of the project. Catherine O'Hara gets to have some fun voicing the blonde haired goth girl with the semi-evil cat, but you won't even know it's her until the end. It isn't a huge miscalculation, but it does feel strange to go to so much trouble to get actors like Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short, and then give them absolutely nothing interesting to say. Score: 3
Atticus Shaffer as Edgar E. Gore: Anyone who watches "The Middle" will recognize Atticus Shaffer's voice almost immediately, and he's a smart choice to play the Egor to Tahan's Frankenstien. Except, again, they don't give him anything that interesting to say. He's entertaining because of who he represents and because of the animation, but the dialogue adds close to nothing. Score: 3
Martin Landau as Mr. Ryzkruski: This character is fantastic. The writing is fantastic, the animation is fantastic, and everything works. Unfortunately, this character is kicked out of the movie fairly quickly, so we don't get to hang out with him as much as the others. And the others aren't as fun. Score: 10
Winona Ryder as Elsa Van Helsing: Okay, this is weird. I get that, along with O'Hara, it's a tip of the hat to Burton's fantastic 1988 romp, Beetlejuice, but Winona Ryder NEVER sounded like a child. Is she supposed to harken us back to her dark, excellent turn as Lydia Deetz in Beetlejuice? Because she doesn't pull it off. Not only does she have a very adult-sounding voice, it is an easily recognizable voice, and that yanks you right out of the movie. "Why," you may find yourself thinking, "is Winona Ryder, of all people, pretending to be thirteen?" And you'll find yourself thinking that everytime Elsa says anything. Such a distracting decision on Burton's part. Score: 2
TALKING: The character with the most interesting things to say, Mr. Ryzkruski (Landau), is barely in the movie. Everyone else's dialogue feels unenthusiastic and perfunctory, but that doesn't really matter with stop-motion animation this brilliant. Score: 5
SIGHTS: Good god, this movie is impressive! When it has its boring or nonsensical moments (and it does), you can just tune out the tepid story and focus on the amount of dedication that went into Frankenweenie. Everything is spectacular. Score: 10
SOUNDS: The movie pays homage to a number of classic horror films -- some I'm sure I missed -- and it pays special attention to the soundtrack. I wouldn't want to listen to the soundtrack without the film, but it was as painstakingly crafted as each of the character's movements and nuances. Score: 9
BEST SCENE: I loved everything to do with the weird blond girl and Mr. Whiskers, the psychic/evil cat.
ENDING: Ah, so we're going with the 'everyone has to be pals, even the bad guys' ending? The ending throws out everything we previously knew about the town and the characters so that everyone gets along. From an adult standpoint, it's irritating; however, I'm all for encouraging kids to root for the happy ending against all odds.
QUESTIONS: Why is Elsa staying with her Uncle? Why are we given ominous undertones of psychological abuse in their relationship, culminating with Elsa saying into a microphone, "I'd welcome death"? Why is Elsa even there? Why would anyone think Winona Ryder should do her voice? Why, world, why?
REWATCHABILITY: If I let the dust settle on the story, I could easily rewatch it just to marvel at the craftsmanship.
Honestly, kids are straightforward when it comes to entertainment. It's us adults that get all persnickety about whether or not something makes sense or throws off the pacing or etc., etc. So writing a review of a kids' movie is tricky. Therefore, consider this more a letter to the parents...not to warn them, because Frankenweenie is gentle fare and won't traumatize their kids...but to give them a heads up about the adult experience.
Frankenweenie is a work of art first and foremost, and a functional movie second. Things won't make sense. The plot will be all over the place. Characters will do things they probably wouldn't do within the confines of their specific personalities. Irrelevant things will happen in order to get the story from Point A to Point B, which means the plot itself is forced. Sometimes its boring, because that happens when you don't have any characters you're truly inspired to follow and root for.
All that being said, I would not miss this film. If it was another Walt Disney facsimile, I would be a lot harsher in my critique, but it's not. It's a beautiful, lovingly crafted, methodical and impressive accomplishment. The kids will laugh because kids aren't picky (when I was a kid, I thought someone falling over was the pinnacle of comedy), and you can enjoy it for its gorgeous precision.
FINAL SCORE: 7/10