A Little Bit of the Old Tim Burton We Used to Love Shines Through Like a Flickering Flame in a Grinning Jack-O-Lantern in “Frankenweenie”!

I have to be honest, when I saw the first trailer for Tim Burton’s black-and-white, stop-motion animated feature film treatment of his own wonderful 1984 short film, “Frankenweenie,” I was less than enthused about the project. In fact, the thought of sitting through the same story he told in 29 minutes nearly 30 years ago now stretched into a 90 minute feature length kid’s flick filled me with a certain amount of dread. Whatever happened to the “less is more” theory of storytelling? Did adding an additional two hours to the run time help Peter Jackson’sKing Kong” (2005) tell the story better than the 1933 version? Will stretching “The Hobbit,” the shortest and simplest of Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” books, into three 3 hour films improve the narrative? Does breaking the film adaption of any last book of any popular series into two separate films do anything except increase box-office returns?

These questions were multiplied in my mind by the recent output of the once beloved King of Popcorn Goth Cinema. “Dark Shadows” was a mess. I hated “Alice in Wonderland” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” “Sweeney Todd” was a one time watch for me, and the less said about “Planet of the Apes,” the better. I have to go back almost fifteen years to “Sleepy Hollow” (1999) to find a Tim Burton film I actually liked. I absolutely loved “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” but Henry Selick directed that one. Burton just wrote the story and created the characters, and Burton’s own attempt to recapture the magic of that masterpiece, “The Corpse Bride” (2005), left me cold.

With all this in mind, I’m happy to be able to say that “Frankenweenie” (2012) does manage to recapture some of Burton’s outsider charm. The basic framework of his 1984 short remains. Young Victor Frankenstein’s only friend, his pet dog Sparky, is killed in an accident so Victor decides to resurrect Sparky ala “Frankenstein” (1931) and hi-jinks & chaos ensue. The story is expanded by adding a trio of antagonists who want to steal and copy Victor’s secret of pet resurrection which leads to an all out Monster Mash in the film’s conclusion. Most of the monstrosities brought to life by Victor’s tormentors are homages to classic movie monsters from the Wolf Man to the Mummy to Gremlins to Gamera. In fact, the movie is filled to the gills with homages and/or in-jokes to the entire history of classic monster movies from “The Bride of Frankenstein” (1935) to “The Horror of Dracula” (1958) all the way to “Bambi Meets Godzilla”(1969)!

“Frankenweenie” is a nice alternative to “Hotel Transylvania” this Halloween for parents who would like the opportunity to enjoy the film themselves instead having to choose between a 90 minute nap and a migraine headache. Although it does soft peddle into a safe Disney ending in spite of the general Burton-esque weirdness on display during the entire film, it never talks down to the audience for cheap laughs. I would love to tell you that it doesn’t even include a juvenile poop joke, but it does. However, this poop joke is so weird and out-of-the-box (literally, the kitty litter box!) that it actually made me laugh.

While this is no “Nightmare Before Christmas,” it’s not a colossal disappointment either. For Monster Kids and their own kids, this would make a great Halloween matinee.

– The Phantom of the Ville

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