Friday, October 5, 2012

Frankenweenie (Movie Review)

Frankenweenie (Walt Disney Pictures, 2012; Directed by Tim Burton)

Everyone loves an underdog story.  But what about a six-feet-under-dog story?

Tim Burton's Frankenweenie (an elaboration of the 1984 live-action short of the same title) is well-stocked with the kind of endearingly oddball characters that viewers have come to expect from the director.  Best in Show in that regard is Sparky (what better name for a disinterred and electrically-revivified canine?), the spunky bull terrier transformed into an undead Spuds Mackenzie by his grieving and deeply devoted owner, ten-year-old Victor Frankenstein.  A bundle of energy even before he's lightning-zapped on Victor's laboratory slab, Sparky effuses charisma with his barks and bounces, and his ever-wagging and sometimes disconnecting tail.

The film doesn't have the slapstick approach of Young Frankenstein or the satiric quirkiness of Edward Scissorhands (another Burton film that invokes the cinematic work of James Whale), but delivers plenty of humor.  There are sight gags and potty jokes for the juvenile-minded, and brilliant flashes of wittiness that will delight older members of the audience (e.g. the clever caricatures of horror icons such as Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, and Peter Lorre).

Indeed, the greatest fun comes from Frankenweenie's allusiveness, as it chases genre vehicles like Godzilla, Gremlins, and Pet Sematary.  Most obviously and extensively, though, Burton's film references the Universal classics, and to no surprise climaxes with a scene of a torch-wielding mob harrying the "monster" at a windmill.  Overt hommage is also paid through the use of black and white.  This strategic colorlessness certainly gives the film a throwback look, yet also dulls the splendor of creation displayed onscreen, especially in contrast to the vibrant palettes of contemporary macabre-themed animated features like Hotel Transylvania and ParaNorman.

A word of forwarning: some of the action here--for instance, Mr. Whiskers' hideous mutation into a vampire bat-cat--will be a bit too intense for the youngest viewers.  But Burton fans and lovers of old-time horror will revel once the lively monsters start mashing.  Frankenweenie might not be quite on par with prior Burton efforts such as Corpse Bride (whose saucer-eyed, stick-limbed-figure animation style it shares) or The Nightmare Before Christmas, but promises to give theatergoers an enjoyable jolt this Halloween season.

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