Frankenweenie: a Boy, His Dog and the Love of Science.

I went to the theatre last evening with my daughters and their friend to see Tim Burton’s latest stop-motion animated feature Frankenweenie. Our family has loved watching Tim Burton films for many years and was really looking forward to this one. We were not disappointed.

Frankenweenie is the story of  Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan), a young solemn studious boy whose interests tend toward science rather than sports. He is an only child. Much to the chagrin of his parents, his only friend is Sparky, his loyal dog. POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT (although it is clear from the movie poster and trailer that this will happen) I think it is fair to say that Sparky meets an untimely death (how? I won’t spoil that). Inspired by his new science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau, but bearing a striking similarity to an elderly Vincent Price), Victor decides to revive his dearly departed friend. Trouble begins when he tries to keep reanimated Franken-Sparky a secret, but curious classmates stumble upon his secret. Since these kids are determined to win the science fair (clearly they are not as smart or pure in their motivation as Victor), before you know it, the local pet cemetery is just full of holes and the town is being overrun by horrible reanimated creatures. Because he is a product of a boy’s love, Franken-Sparky is different from these other creatures. But try convincing the citizens of New Holland that, as the angry mob drives Franken-Sparky way. But Victor and his ally/next door neighbour Elsa Van Helsing (voiced by Winona Ryder) do their best to stop them. The movie comes to a satisfying, although somewhat predictable conclusion.

This movie is a sweet twist on the tale of a boy and his dog. The film is clearly influenced by classic horror monsters. There is homage paid to Vincent Price, Frankenstein and his bride, Godzilla, The Wolf Man, vampire bats, The Mummy and the Invisible Man. Victor is a sensitive, gentle boy who finds himself in a difficult situation after a heart breaking experience.

He manages to navigate it with kindness, compassion and science. The voice acting is pitch perfect . I liked the way this creepy town reflected realistic relationships and interactions. Who hasn’t felt a bit frustrated when a classmate has copied? There were moments of sadness, buoyed by comedic bits. I particularly love the tombstone marked “Good-bye Kitty” poking fun at Hello Kitty.

Also memorable was Victor’s creepy Weird Girl (voiced by Catherine O’Hara) classmate who claimed her cat’s litter box contents predicted the future.

Girl: Something big is going to happen.
Victor: How do you know?
Girl: Because Mr. Whiskers left a message. (Hands him a V-shaped poop on a tissue)
Victor: Did you get that out of the litter box?

I especially enjoyed the misunderstood science teacher; below is a clip of his explanation of being struck by lightning which is a frequent occurrence among the citizens of New Holland.

But Mr. Rzykruski really shines when he defends his methods of teaching science to the parents of New Holland and admonishes them for their ignorance and incuriosity. (No quote or clip here, the speech itself is worth the price of admission)

Another favorite bit is when classmate Bob decides to experiment with Sea Monkeys and ends up with creepy Gremlin-like creatures.

Bob: Victor, I need your help.
Victor: Did you see those things? They were like…
Bob: Sea monkeys, you know how on the package they’re like, in a happy kingdom and everyone’s smiling?
Victor: Yeah
Bob: They’re not like that at all.

(How many kids have been disappointed by this egregiously false advertisement often found in the back of comic books?)

My girls and I enjoyed Frankenweenie and no one complained that it was entirely in Black and White (another nod to classic horror cinema). My only complaint is that it was only available to us in 3D which was completely superfluous. It was a good movie that took us on an emotional journey to a satisfying conclusion. I don’t need Mr. Whisker’s help to know we will be watching this again, this time with Dad (who had to work, poor guy), when it is available on DVD.

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