Back From the Dead – Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie”by Jo W. on Oct, 06 2012
I had the pleasure of seeing an advanced screening of Frankenweenie at Shattuck Cinemas on Wednesday evening.
After Tim Burton’s last animated film Corpse Bride was released in 2005 seven years ago (Oh man, seven years already????), he has at long last released his third and newest stop-motion animated feature Frankenweenie (Nightmare Before Christmas, an original story directed by Henry Selick and released in 1993, was his first one). Not only is Frankenweenie Burton’s newest animated film, it is also a remake of his 1984 short live-action film of the same title. Back then, he was an animator working for Disney Studios (he had contributed to The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron). When he created his short film, the higher-ups at Disney were livid, censuring him for wasting company resources and firing him.
Ironically, due to his overwhelming success as a film director, Disney ends up being the studio to finance, doggedly promote, and release the full-length animated 2012 remake. As a homage to classic horror films, Frankenweenie is in black and white. It is, in fact, the first black and white AND stop-motion film to be released in IMAX 3-D.
The premise of the film, which is inspired by the 1931 film adaption of Frankenstein, which is in turn based on Mary Wolstonecraft Shelley’s 19th-century novel, is the same as the original 1984 short: A schoolboy from the suburbs resurrects his beloved bull terrier Sparky, who was hit by a car.
After Sparky is killed, Victor Frankenstein (named after the protagonist of Shelley’s novel) gains inspiration from his science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, to utilize electricity to resurrect Sparky. So, in pivotal scene in which young Victor conducts his risky experiment in his attic on a stormy night, he ingeniously utilizes household items (such as a clock and an umbrella), his mother’s kitchenware (including a toaster, waffle machine, and a blender), and miscellaneous items (giant merry-go-round deers, which looked cool, but how are they in a family attic?) to generate electricity from lightning and zap Sparky back to life.
At first, he thinks his experiment is a failure.
But NO. Sparky starts wagging his tail, and licks his owner’s hand.
“Sparky!” exclaims Victor as the stitched-up Sparky barks excitedly, jumps on Victor, and licks his face. “You’re alive!”
Should be a nice conclusion for the plight of a boy who lost his best friend, shouldn’t it?
New Holland Elementary School’s science fair is coming up. When news that Victor reanimated his dog spreads among Victor’s classmates, they discover his secret methods, raid the pet cemetery for the corpses of their deceased pets (or dig a dead rat out of a school trashcan, in one kid’s case) and resurrect them with electricity. But their experiments go haywire and result in monsters. Mr. Rzykruski is fired and deemed as an immoral science teacher who plants dangerous ideas into children’s heads, and Sparky incites a mob armed with pitchforks and flaming torches to hunt and destroy him.
Audience reactions were quite positive. There were several funny moments that incited laughters, many of them seeming to revolve around Victor’s intelligent and ultra-competitive asian classmate Toshiaki, who speaks with a fobby accent. Seeing as the majority of the audience were Cal students, it’s easy to see why the character would provide comic relief. However, right after Sparky died, I overhead one girl hissing to her friend, “Why are you laughing???? The dog just died!!!!!!!”
One scene that stood out to me was the lecture on why people get hit by lightning, given by Mr. Rzykruski. This is the most entertaining, yet informative, lecture on lightning I’ve ever seen, and I wasn’t even in a classroom (Okay, the characters were in a classroom, and I was being a voyeur, watching from the plush seats of Shattuck Cinema).
I don’t recall ever being taught about electrons in elementary school, but Mr. Rzykruski draws on the chalkboard and tells the class in his Eastern European accent, “The cloud is angry, yes, making storm! All the electrons are saying, ‘I am leaving you! I go to the land of opportunity!’ The ground says, ‘Yes, we need electrons trained in science, just like you! Come! Come! Welcome!’”
He starts to draw lighting from the cloud, explaining, “So both sides start to build a ladder.” Then, he draws a stick figure. “This man, he comes out to look at the storm. He does not see the invisible ladders. When the two ladders meet, BOOM!!!!!!”
The schoolchildren GASP!
“The circuit is complete. And all the electrons rush to the land of opportunity! This man IS IN THE WAY!”
He screams as he draws lightning around the hapless stick figure.
Well, that scene forebodes what will occur later on in the film. You can watch Mr. Rzykruski’s lecture on why people get hit by lightning by clicking here.
You can also watch a clip of the touching scene in which Sparky comes back to life.
Frankeweenie is definitely Tim Burton’s best film in the past several years. After a long string of sloppy live-action adaptions, Frankenweenie is a fresh change that hark back to old-school Tim Burton from the 90′s. From the occurrences in prosaic suburbia when a Frankensteinian-monster creation is introduced (reminiscent of Edward Scissorhands) to the hard work and love worked into the movements of beautifully intricate puppets (much like Burton’s legendary and elaborate masterpiece Nightmare Before Christmas), this is an early Halloween treat that starts October 2012 off right.