Friday, October 12, 2012

Tim Burton...Odder and More More Beautiful

In 1984 a lowly Disney animator who didn't fit into the Disney happy train created a delightfully different 19 minute film called FRANKENWEENIE, the charming story of a boy and his dog. Typical, but very changed. This time the boy does lose his dog to a car accident, but, inspired by his science teacher, he reanimates Sparky. Tim Burton used live action and actors and filmed in moody black and white to tell his version of the Frankenstein legend. His quirky, often morbid style was already in full play, as he lovingly aped the famous transformation scenes from both the original FRANKENSTEIN and THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN of 1930's fame.

Often taking a short skit or film and stretching it into a full length movie doesn't work. Just look at most of the Saturday Night Light sketch characters who had films based on the show and were never heard of again. But here we are in 2012 and Tim Burton, one of the most successful directors today, has reanimated his original film and stretched it into over 100 minutes. Did it work? Yes, mostly so.
All the gothic lighting, foreboding but amusing music, and wry homages to old movies are here. Plus there are even more allusions to past films. One key difference is that this film is animated, not live action. The charming performances of the actors in the original (Shelley Duvall as Mom, Daniel Stern as Dad, and Barret Oliver as young Victor Frankenstein are replaced by voiced cartoonish figures that simply don't deliver the humor and humanity of the originals. That aside, Burton has created a visual feast of bizarre characters and events.

The plot is basically the same. Young Victor loves his dog Sparky, Sparky gets whacked by an auto, Victor (using his school science lessons and every electrical appliance in his house, including the family toaster) reanimates Sparky with mixed success. Soon the secret is out and the townspeople (think those unruly villagers in the old Frankenstein movies) are on the march. We even have the famous scene that ends FRANKENSTEIN, where the monster is chased up to the windmill and consumed in flames...or so we think. Burton provides many inside jokes. Victor's neighbor is named Elsa Van Helsing, referencing Elsa Lancaster as the original BRIDE and DRACULA's famed vampire hunter, Van Helsing.  She even receives a lightning hair-do. Victor's weird schoolmate is Edgar E. Gore, alluding to Igor, the hunchbacked lab assistant from the original FRANKENSTEIN films and even more so in Mel Brooks' brilliant parody YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN.

The big plot extension comes with Victor's secret being stolen by his classmates. Their experiments turn into monsters. We see a turtle become a Godzilla, a cat become a vampire, etc. And finally there is the great windmill scene. Burton has created a clever, artfully crafted film. Even though it doesn't quite match the fresh spirit of the original, this FRANKENWEENIE is a treat.

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