Director - Tim Burton
Cast - Catherine O’ Hara, Martin Landau
Country of Origin - U.S.
Discs - 4
Distributor - Disney
Reviewer - Scott MacDonald
Date - 01/05/13
The Film (4/5)
Anyone who picked up the original DVD Special Edition of the Tim Burton spawned, Henry Selick directed The Nightmare Before Christmas might remember Tim Burton's short film Frankenweenie among the extras on that disc. At a lean 45 minutes Burton prior to making his feature film debut Pee Wee's Big Adventure, managed to make a tight involving tale about a boy who loses his dog, and uses Frankenstein-esque methods to resurrect the creature.
The short film version of Frankenweenie felt like a fully fleshed vision from a young Tim Burton, and something that did not need to be further expanded on. As I have not been impressed by Tim Burton's output since Big Fish (yes, even Sweeney Todd) I took Burton announcing an expanded remake of Frankenweenie as the Gothic-lite auteur's way of announcing he had finally run out of ideas, and was now content on reusing his earlier material as a source. With that in mind, I chose to ignore the films theatrical release, but finally caught it with the current Disney Blu-ray, and found that not only did the film exceed my minimal expectations, but I found the stop-motion feature film version of Frankenweenie to be an absolute delight, and Tim Burton's best film in over a decade.
The film follows the same basic story as the short film. Young Victor Frankenstein is a young man obsessed with science, and has a special place in his heart for his dog Sparky. One day while playing a little league baseball game (something his Father enticed him to do, in exchange for allowed participation in his beloved science fair), Victor hits a home run, and Sparky chases it into the road, gets hit by a car, and dies. Sparky is buried in the local pet cemetery, but this is only a temporary stop, as after a particular influential science lesson by his favorite science teacher, and mentor Mr. Rzykruski (Ed Wood's Martin Landau) he decides to apply his science knowledge to resurrect Sparky from his eternal slumber.
Victor, at first, attempts to keep it a secret, but before long it gets around to the kids around town who unsuccessfully use Victor's method to resurrect their own lost pets, creating a wonderful and fun homage to so many monster films of the past (The Gamera shout-out personally had me in stitches). The resurrected pets end up creating a huge ruckus throughout the town during the town's Dutch Day's town fair, and it's up to Victor and Sparky to put a stop to the monstrous mayhem.
The first version of Frankenweenie (also included as an extra on this set), was a short, fun, and emotional well rounded ride by a director who seemed to come into his career with a fully formed set of stylistic ideas. It was a nice treat of a film, that was unfairly treated by Disney at the time due to it's scary content. The Frankenweenie remake by comparison maintains the same emotional roller-coaster ride as the original, mixed with some fun scares, and a great sense of humor throughout. This is a perfect Halloween-time film for the younger set to enjoy, and great for the parents especially if those parents are genre film fans, and can catch all the little references Burton has added to the film.
At 87 minutes the film feels a tad too long, especially coming from the a place of familiarity with the short film version. With that being said I interrogated my daughter after her viewing of the film (separate from my own), and she even pointed out that it dragged a little at the end, and I don't believe I've ever made her sit through the short version, so maybe it's not just that perspective that informs my opinion.
The film is done in the same clean and fluid stop-motion animation style as Tim Burton's prior directorial work The Corpse Bride. At times I forgot that the animation was stop-motion and not simple 3D computer animation. This is in opposition to the work done by other modern powerhouse stop motion animators like Aardman Animation, and Nightmare Before Christmas director's Henry Selick's work, who seem to relish in leaving enough of a classic stop-motion look on the finished product to leave the audience in on the technique. That being said, the film carries the Burton signature look, and with the high contrast black and whites the film looks like a cross between a German Expressionist film, and the Universal Monster films of the 30's, which is obviously the intention.
Tim Burton's Frakenweenie is an absolute delight from a director I thought I had simply given up on. Did he reinvent his personal wheel with this film? No. But he successfully created a fun family film, based off of one of his earlier beloved properties without making it feel bloated and uneven. He even adds some nice political statements into the picture in support of science education, in a way that is both humorous and poignant. If Tim Burton can keep out churning pictures this fun, I may have to start paying closer attention to this director once again.
Disney has brought Frankenweenie to Blu-ray with a truly stunning 1080p AVC encoded transfer preserving the films original aspect ratio. This transfer has an immense amount of detail, it has fantastic contrast with deep inky black levels. No issues at all can be seen with this absolute stunner of a transfer.
Disney have presented their Blu-ray of Frankenweenie with a equally fantastic DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track in English (optional subtitles are available). The dialogue comes through loud and clear, as does Danny Eleman's fantastic score. The sound effects sound nice and bombastic, and everything is mixed very nicely together. I did not detect any instances of pops, cracks, or hissing on the track.
Not the most elaborate special edition to grace the market, Disney has put a few nice extras on their Blu-ray release of Frankenweenie. The Primary extra is Miniatures in Motion: Bringing Frankenweenie to Life. This is a 23 minute behind the scenes look at the production of Frankenweenie. This is followed up by Frankenweenie Touring Exhibit, a 5 minute look at an art exhibit that features the art, and sketches of the film. The most substantial extra is the original Frankenweenie short film starring Barrett Oliver (Neverending Story), Shelly Duvall (Cheers), and Daniel Stern (C.H.U.D.). There is also a 2 minute short film called Captain Sparky vs. the Flying Saucers which is the expanded version of the short that opens the film. We then get the most useless extra on the disc, the Plain White T's doing a wretched cover of the Ramones - Pet Sematary, and while I'm happy the surviving Ramones, and their heirs are making a few bucks off this, but wow.... The disc is rounded off with a series of trailers for other upcoming Disney releases.
Frankenweenie is by far Tim Burton's best film in over a decade. It's an absolute fun homage to monster movies of the past from 80's creature features, to Japanese Kaiju flicks, and of course Universal monster films. The film successfully takes an already brilliant short film, and expands it to feature length, while retaining everything that made the original a success. The A/V quality of the disc is reference quality outstanding, and though the extras are limited most of them are interesting, and worth your time. Frankenweenie on Blu-ray comes HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.