Review: Frankenweenie (2012 movie)

Back in 1984 a young Tim Burton directed a highly stylized half-hour live-action short for Disney, featuring Shelley Duvall and a number of other recognizable character actors, about a young suburban boy named Victor Frankenstein whose brings his beloved dog back from the dead with lightning. It was originally supposed to be distributed as a short with the re-release of Pinocchio, but it proved too upsetting to children at test screenings, and that led Disney to part company with Burton for a good while not long after.

Nearly 30 years later Burton produced this expanded version using stop-motion animation. The story takes place not in suburbia but in a strange town where the hero’s schoolmates resemble movie monsters and there’s a thunderstorm every night.

One day a creepy little girl tells Victor that her equally creepy cat dreamed about him the previous night. She knows this, she explains, because she found Victor’s initial in the cat box, something that has always been harbinger of a major event for good or ill in the life of the person so identified. And so it is for Victor: His beloved dog Sparky is killed in an accident later that day. But when the science teacher (who looks a bit like Vincent Price) demonstrates how electricity can produce muscle twitches in a dead frog, Victor sees a way to bring Sparky back.

There’s some funny material here, and the stylized characters, a little in the spirit of Charles Addams, are well executed. In the end I liked it more than I disliked it, but in a lot of ways it’s rather disturbing.


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