Frankenweenie - ***
Directed by: Tim Burton
Starring (voices): Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder
Review: I will start by saying that I am absolutely biased towards Tim Burton and stop-motion-go animation creations. They have depth, ingenuity, and most importantly they always have heart.
Whether it’s Jack Skellington’s search for something different in ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas,’ the quest for true love in ‘Corpse Bride’ amidst a seas of death and loneliness, or ‘Coraline’s’ yearning for attention from semi-neglectful parents, there’s always large themes beneath the surface. It seem Burton may actually be more comfortable exploring themes of life, death, and the desires of humans in this form as opposed to with real people.
We saw the surface of such things with Burton’s early work such as ‘Beetlejuice,’ ‘Edward Scissorhands,’ and to a lesser extent ‘Ed Wood’ and ‘Big Fish.’ His last few movies have lost their way a bit, but he still retains his love of the dark and lesser explored parts of our humanity.
‘Frankenweenie’ is about loss. Dealing with it, coping with it, and why it’s important for us to move on, while still cherishing the memories of what we once had. The main character Victor’s dog Sparky passes away in the early going of the film. Hit by a car in the middle of the street poor Sparky never stood a chance.
Victor and Sparky did everything together. For a lonely kid with few friends, Sparky was Victor’s best friend. Nearly inconsolable after his death, Victor would do anything to bring Sparky back. After seeing how electricity can affect dead animals in science class, he decides to see if he can use that power to completely re-animate his beloved dog. The rest of the story goes where you would expect from there, following the outline of the ‘Frankenstein’ story quite close, while still providing enough of it’s own flair.
One of the biggest differences from the source material is Victor’s friends taking his idea and using it to re-animate animals of their own. Unfortunately, their intentions aren’t nearly as pure and therefore, neither are their re-animated creations.
Borrowing many tongue-in-cheek references from past horror movies, the town becomes overrun with monsters of these children’s creations. This whole time these kids operate seemingly independent of their parents and family, who only seem to be there to provide food and the normal household appliances to allow them to complete their experiments.
In some ways, ‘Frankenweenie’ is a treatise on parents understanding their children. In large part, what children do can often be attributed the involvement (or lack thereof) from their parents. Parents have an understanding of how the world works and that the death of a dog, however tragic, means little when you’ve got bills to pay, mouths to feed, and a family to provide for. But kids compute things differently.
Victor’s parents secretly hope that Sparky’s death leads Victor to get out more and make new friends. They hope that he will stop doing his little science experiments and become what they believe to be a normal kid. But parents are so far removed from being children, they forget what it’s like.
This is the underlying message of the film. Victor has to learn how to grow up and process events that happen in life, but his parents have to learn to not lose sight of what’s important when the problems of the real world get in the way.
‘Frankenstein’ in all its incarnations has always been about being misunderstood. The monster is misunderstood, the creator is misunderstood, and nobody takes the time to try to ask the questions to make sense of the world around them. Events happen, people process them based on their preconceived notions of how the world works, and then act without taking a step back.
This story has always challenged that aspect of humanity. That in searching for understanding, of death, life, and solidarity we can reveal who we really are. Misunderstandings have led to many bad things in this world and this story goes to show that many horrible things can be avoided with the right amount of understanding.
Wrapped up in the trappings of a child’s movie is a deep message that is still necessary because its still not being heard.