It's a little scary at times but it has its heart in the right place,
Disney's "Frankenweenie" is one of three recent animated films that might best be described as scary movies made for kids. Following "ParaNorman" and "Hotel Transylvania", "Frankenweenie" is the darkest of the bunch. The spooky tone is set from the very beginning, when lighting crashes over the Disney logo and the film switches from color to black-and-white. It's a little scary at times but it has its heart in the right place, making it more appropriate for general audiences than the subject matter might suggest.
It was originally a 30-minute film made by director Tim Burton in 1984. This new version of "Frankenweenie" is the latest of several remakes directed by Burton, joining "Planet of the Apes", "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory", "Alice in Wonderland" and "Dark Shadows". The remake of "Frankenweenie" seems less pointless than some of those others because, as Burton has said, it more accurately reflects the original drawings he made when he first came up with idea for the short film. He and screenwriter John August have found creative ways of expanding the short. The result is a more engaging, fleshed-out story.
Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) is a lonely, creative boy who makes short films with his beloved dog, Sparky. When Sparky dies in a car accident, Victor is heartbroken. Inspired by a science teacher who shows him the effect electricity can have on the deceased, the boy goes to extraordinary lengths to get his friend back. He retrieves Sparky's body from the pet cemetery and zaps him back to life.
This story could have been horrifying, but luckily for younger viewers, Burton has taken a lighthearted approach, infusing the film with comic relief. After Sparky is revived, he's constantly losing parts of himself, but Victor remains undaunted. "I can fix that," the boy says optimistically. Sparky has been sewn back together, and he has so many stitches in him he resembles a baseball that has sprouted legs. Through a series of comic misunderstandings, he becomes a neighborhood menace. In this way, he's like the main character in Burton's masterpiece, "Edward Scissorhands". Like Edward, Sparky quickly gains our sympathies.
All of this is faithful to the short film. Burton has expanded the story by including some hilarious supporting charters, who discover Victor's secret and perform experiments on their own pets. My favorites are Weird Girl (voiced by Catherine O'Hara) and Edgar (voiced by Atticus Shaffer). Aptly named, Weird Girl owns a cat named Mr. Whiskers, who has a very disgusting way of telling the fortunes of her classmates. Edgar is a hunchbacked boy with a jack-o-lantern face and a voice that sounds like Peter Lorre, the classic movie actor best known for his role in "Casablanca". The references don't stop there. "Frankenweenie" mimics the style of classic black-and-white horror movies. Long shadows appear on walls, and some scenes are lit from below, giving the characters' faces a sinister look. A pet that one of the kids brings back to life resembles Gamera, a giant turtle that appeared in a series of Japanese monster movies in the 1960s. Another scene pays homage to "Bride of Frankenstein", specifically the bride's hairdo with its white-lightening streak.
Throughout his career, Burton has shown a lot of affection for misunderstood misfits, from the inept ghosts in "Beetlejuice" to the freakish villains in "Batman Returns". His movies work a special kind of magic when his sympathy for these characters becomes our own. In that respect, "Frankenweenie" shows Burton at his best.
"Frankenweenie" will be playing this weekend at the Augusta Historic Theatre, 523 State Street. Showtimes are 7:30pm on Friday and Saturday and 2pm on Sunday. Tickets are $6.
Stephen is an AHS graduate who studied film and journalism in college. His reviews have appeared in The University Daily Kansan and at FilmNet.com. The first movie he remembers going to see is "The Karate Kid, Part II". He lives in Wichita.