Frankenweenie– Movie Review
Disney and Tim Burton can still make a great kids movie that everyone can enjoy. After the critical bomb (and commercial success) of Alice in Wonderland, both parties show that they can do more than just visual spectacle with the wonderful Frankenweenie, an animated family movie that is packed with heart, adventure, and even some politics!
Adolescent Victor Frankenstein is a burdgeoning filmmaker and scientist, and a loner; but he doesn’t need any friends beside his beloved dog Sparky. When Sparky is killed by a passing car, Victor reanimates him in his attic laboratory. But then the other kids in town catch on and try to replicate Victor’s experiment, with terrible results.
Burton’s movie magic begins when he doesn’t simply tell the story of a pre-teen Frankenstein; he creates a whole horror-movie-inspired suburb for it, the kind of place that could only come out of Burton’s mind. It’s a strange mix of Pleasantville and Transylvania, where the mothers look like Donna Reed and the middle school students look like hunchbacks and Lurch. Victor’s classmates foreshadow that the town has bizarrely frequent lightning strikes.
And while Burton probably could have ridden the clever idea of a young Frankenstein (sounds like a good comedy to me!) to a formulaic family movie, he instead uses the conceit as a door to so many other things: the coming-of-age for the awkward and outcast, the role of science in society, the relationship of science and the arts- not to mention some parent-pleasing classic movie references.
Martin Landau (who won an Oscar as horror movie legend Bela Lugosi in Burton’s Ed Wood) gives the film extra heart and brains as a substitute science teaches who pushes Victor to his potential- and bears the wrath of local parents for it. The demented but passionate educator, who looks like Burton muse Vincent Price and sounds like Dracula, laments to young Victor that “this country” likes what science gives it, but doesn’t like the questions science raises. One of the film’s funniest moments was when he politely tells an audience of critical parents that the problem is their stupidity. It was quite timely commentary as this week saw the latest round of political attacks on science education.
Of course, none of this depth makes the movie too complicated or heavy for young audiences. Kids will love its simple story of friendship and growing up, but mostly the monster-driven action scenes. However, some scenes and elements might not be appropriate for very young audiences: (SPOILER ALERT) the impaling of a mutant beast is surprisingly violent; and a supporting Chinese-stereotype character is in surprisingly bad taste.
Did you see Frankenweenie? What did you think?