Halloween Review: Frankenweenie (2012)

Tim Burton first made this film in 1984, as a darkly whimsical, live-action short for Walt Disney. Disney executives disliked the result– reviewed today by Blaine–, which they considered too frightening for children. They shelved plans to play the film before the rereleased Pinocchio, though the original “Frankenweenie” did accompany some showings of Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend. They also let go of the young director. Years later, with Burton established as a brilliant (though wildly uneven) crafter of darkly whimsical films, Disney decided to give him another chance. This time he used stop-motion animation. The result, while not perfect, succeeds, a stitched-together monster of a movie with a likeable heart

Title: Frankenweenie

Cast, Crew, and Other Info:

Directed by Tim Burton
Written by Tim Burton, John August, Leonard Ripps.

Charlie Tahan as Victor Frankenstein
Winona Ryder as Elsa Van Helsing
Catherine O’Hara as Mrs. Frankenstein/Weird Girl/Gym Teacher
Martin Short as Mr. Frankenstein/Mr. Burgemeister/Nassor
Martin Landau as Mr. Rzykruski
Atticus Shaffer as Egar E. Gore
James Hiroyuki Liao as Toshiaki
Robert Capron as Bob
Christopher Lee as Dracula

Full Cast and Crew information is available at the imdb.


When a small-town whiz kid’s dog dies, he employs mad science to bring the beloved pet back from the dead. Mayhem ensues, and multiplies, as New Holland’s misfits copy the experiment, with monstrous results.

High Points:

1. The gothic ridiculousness that pervades Frankenweenie reaches an apotheosis as the film achieves its climax. Elsa Van Helsing sings a hilarious tribute to small town life while the various science misfits of New Holland Elementary unleash a torrent of mad science and an assortment of parodic monsters on an unsuspecting community. It’s hysterically funny—but not necessarily for the youngest kids. No child likely gets the ironic humor of Elsa’s number, and a couple of the wee ones in the theatre where we saw this were genuinely terrified during the horror sequences.

2. When the teacher, Rzykruski, tries to defend science, his inadequate grasp of English nuance and social decorum damns him. The poor man is simply too truthful. He later concludes that the townsfolk “like what science gives them, but not the questions.” It’s a trifle heavy-handed, but perhaps it needs to be.

Low Point:

The film drags a little between its bright, self-referential opening, and its exciting third act. It also suffers from some forced plot development. Character development, too, is limited, and very broad; Pixar would have given these characters greater internal depth.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 Burton has remade his own film, which was itself heavily influenced by various incarnations of Frankenstein, which has influenced other Tim Burton productions. Frankenweenie also raids the history of horror movies—not, as in last week’s Halloween Feature, in an attempt to rip off better movies in order to break into the lucrative horror market– but as a way to create an affectionate parody.

Burton even recomposes many of the same shots from the original, though with a few fresh twists.

The creation scene, in both versions of this movie, is the most affectionate of the many existing parodies of Karloff’s animation in James Whale’s 1931 Frankenstein.

Animation: 6/6 The cinematic stylization suits this story.

Story: 4/6 At times, fairly forced and arbitrary developments move the plot along. I enjoyed Frankenweenie and recommend it to our regular readers, but they could have refined plot and character.

Voice Acting: 5/6 Burton has assembled a strong cast, and they generally do an excellent job.

Burton’s models allow for external expressiveness, and they permit the dogs to be more personable beings than we see in the original short film.

Production: 6/6.

Emotional Response: 4/6.

Overall: 5/6 The action and parody go much further over the top than the original, but it’s animation, and it has to keep the audience interested for 90 minutes.

Like me, many of you will have some affection for a cartoon in which, once more, some characters are permitted to do dangerously stupid things that, in real life, would likely get them killed.

In total, Frankenweenie receives 32/42.

Lingering Questions

1. It’s a trivial point, but unlike, say, Edward Scissorhands, which takes place in some fantasy version of suburban America, 1950-1980, this film has been placed clearly around 1970– a fantastic version where mad science works, but in an era nevertheless. The “Pluto” joke is moderately funny, but out of place.

2. I understand that the film’s status as a family movie pretty much necessitated Sparky’s second resurrection from the dead, but wouldn’t it be more honest if he’d stayed dead at the end? Pets die. They do not return.

2012 October Countdown:

Oct. 6: Devil Seed (2012)
Oct. 13: Frankenweenie (1984 and 2012 versions)
Oct. 20: Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust (2000)
Oct. 27: Sinister (2012)
Oct. 31: Ghost Story (1981– plus a review of the original novel)