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Frankenweenie / **** (PG)

Posted Wednesday, October 10, 2012, at 8:47 PM

Tim Burton takes us on a nostalgic trip to the b-horror movies of our youth in his 3D stop motion animation remake of his own first film "Frankenweenie".
Walt Disney Pictures presents a film directed by Tim Burton. Written by John August. Based on the short film by Burton. Running time: 87 min. Rated PG (for thematic elements, scary images and action).

In 1984, a visually innovative filmmaker made his first live action film. It was a short film made for Disney, a sort of kids version of the horror classic "Frankenstein" that sees a child take the Dr. Frankenstein role when his beloved dog, Sparky, is hit by a car. Made in black and white, "Frankenweenie" was the introduction of an already fully formed artist who would contribute a unique vision and style to the Hollywood cinematic landscape for years to come. Now, Tim Burton returns with a remake of his first live action film, this time created in stop motion animation and with an expanded storyline that references many volumes of classic creature features.

In many ways, "Frankenweenie" is a movie monster fan's dream. It is filled with the themes, characters, and similar monsters as those that populated the Friday late night and Saturday afternoon television programming schedules in the 70s and 80s. It uses stop motion animation and 3D, two techniques popularized by the monster matinees of the 50s and 60s. If you ever eagerly awaited screenings of movies like "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms", "The Creature from the Black Lagoon", or any of the Godzilla movies, you'll cherish much of "Frankenweenie".

It's also a good family film, with solid values, good lessons, and it's unique in the family genre. There aren't really very many family films that are also from the horror genre. This one has a distinct horror feel to it without being too scary for the younger members. The recent "Hotel Transylvania" tries to mine the horror monster genre for some family fare, but it isn't really horrific, nor does it have the strong family themes of this one. This is a family movie that everyone can enjoy because of its humor and style.

The story involves a young boy named Victor Frankenstein. He lives a typical suburban existence that seems at once based in the America of the 1950s and the present. He's not a popular kid. He's a loner, but he loves his dog, Sparky. He's outgoing in his introverted way. He makes movies starring Sparky. His parents are great supporters, but his dad wants him to venture out into more social activities, like baseball. When Victor finally relents, it is during his first big hit that Sparky gets loose and is hit by a car.

Victor is crushed, until one day when his new science teacher--a character obviously modeled after b-monster movie star and Burton idol Vincent Price--gives him the idea that he can bring Sparky back to life with electricity. Soon the Modern Prometheus story is set in motion once again. Victor brings Sparky back to life; but what ramifications will this have on his world?

For one thing, it gives another loner an idea of how to win the science fair. Edgar Gore discovers Victor's secret and blackmails Victor into bringing a fish back to life for him. It works, but something is different. The fish is invisible. Soon other children hear of Victor's ability to restore life to pets that have passed and they all want to wield the same God-like power.

The designs of these children are one of the great pleasures of the movie. Of course, Edgar is based on Dr. Frankenstein's Igor, but the other kids also seem to resemble horror characters from different subgenres of the b-monster flicks. Toshiaki is like a Japanese scientist you might find in a Godzilla movie. His reanimated pet turtle reflects this notion. Nassor looks an awful lot like Boris Karloff's character in "The Mummy" after he's reconstituted. His pet, Colossus, appears from a giant crypt wrapped in bandages. You'll never guess what kind of a pet he was. And, there's a strange girl whose cat tells fortunes with its feces. The girl bears a striking resemblance to one of the blonde-headed children in "Village of the Damned". Winona Ryder also voices a love interest for Victor who seems to be based on none other then Winona Ryder's character from Burton's own "Edward Scissorhands".

Burton's production design by Rick Heinricks, who has been involved in many of Burton's films in many different capacities, is top notch as usual. It evokes the creepy while keeping the atmosphere fun and childlike. The black and white photography by Peter Sorg is exquisitely beautiful. And, Danny Elfman's score brings his usual bouncy dark feel to the picture. Elfman has scored every one of Burton's movies back to his first feature, "Pee Wee's Big Adventure".

The most appealing part of the film, however, is Sparky's personality. Burton does such a good job replicating the personality of a good dog. They say that the worst performers for a director to have to work with are children and animals. Perhaps this is why Burton felt the need to go with animation for this remake of his own movie. I don't think so though. I think everything in this production--from the stop motion animation to that good dog personality of Sparky--are all cherished elements of Burton's own childhood. How else could he capture them so well in a movie that is fun for kids and adults in so many different ways?

"Frankenweenie" is playing in 3D and 2D at galaxy Cinema in Sedalia.

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Andrew is a professionally trained actor and stage director. He was a reporter for the daily newspaper The Marshall Democrat News. He has been critiquing film since Mr. Lucas released the first of his "Star Wars" prequels in 1999. His reviews can also be seen at his blog site.
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