Frankenweenie Review by George Gensler
FRANKENWEENIE: One Boy’s Dream
Full disclosure: I hate spoilers in reviews, so there won’t be any in this one.
Frankenweenie is a film that has been 28 years in the making. Tim Burton first conceived the story back in 1984 and produced it as a short film. However, the idea stayed with him and simmered on a back burner (never shelved, as far as I know) until now, when he built the story out into a full-length animated feature with 3D effects. I have enjoyed several of Tim Burton’s films, but not all of them, so had mixed feelings about this one. Now that I’ve stopped laughing, I can tell you what I thought.
From the posters, previews and titles, it’s not difficult to deduce that this is a blatant Frankenstein parody. Burton paid homage to Shelley’s story – the boy scientist (also a film maker, like his creator) is Victor Frankenstein, who hopes to reanimate a corpse. As the story progresses, though, it becomes a broader – and blatant – parody of, and homage to, the wider monster movie genre, including Burton’s own Edward Scissorhands.
This is story about a boy’s love for his dog and the lengths to which he’ll go to save him. Burton was inspired to make this film by his own relationship with his dog when he was young. It’s really a boy’s fantasy about recapturing something lovely that’s been lost.
The new science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, provides inspiration in many ways to young Victor, who takes his lessons to heart. Among Mr. Rzykruski’s many memorable lines is my favorite of the film: “Science isn’t good or bad, but it can be used both ways.” Pay close attention to the lightning lesson – it’s a fascinating way to engage the students and to get the idea across.
Along with the pro-science message, the theme that being different is good came through very strongly. Most of the children in the story have a unique quality that makes them different from other children: Weird Girl (I’m not being mean – that’s how she’s referred to); Nassor (very tall); Edgar (hunchback – the character has an actual hunchback); and, of course, Victor (a movie-making science-loving loner). One thing they all have in common is their strong desire to win the science fair, which leads them to the misadventures that drive the film towards its finish. Oh, and they all love their pets just as much as Victor does.
Frankenweenie is littered with laugh-out-loud visuals, especially his explorations of just how, realistically, a dog like Sparky would appear in various circumstances. There are also verbal references that, for me, startled me into laughter (I burst out laughing when Elsa’s last name was revealed and a cat’s gravestone marking – Goodbye Kitty). I was excited to spot a Hidden Mickey (I’m sure it was intentional) and I loved the Dark-and-Stormy-Night Cinderella Castle that opened the film. Some of the striking visual moments including the castle opening, the shadows of raindrops on Victor’s bed, and the movie on the screen when the Frankenstein parents are watching TV. There may be a Lady and the Tramp reference as well, but I’m not sure that it’s deliberate.
I am not a monster movie buff, but I did have fun watching for the monster movie references. I’ve put all of the ones I caught in white text below. After you’ve seen it, come back and post the ones you find in the comments and we’ll see if we get them all.
Nassor (shaped like Frankstein’s monster)
Giant Reptile (turtle) attacking town (foot crushing police car and gerbil/hamster)
Bat Cat (vampire, werewolf)
Edward Scissorhands (multiple references – town, shrubs, etc.)
Weird Girl’s cat
Van Helsing (Elsa’s last name)
Frankenstein family, especially Victor
Vincent Price (Mr. Rzykruski, the science teacher)
Mummy (Colossus and his Frankstein’s monster-shaped owner)
Chemical reactions causing catastrophe (Miracle-Gro dripping on Shelley, the turtle)
Shelley the Turtle (author of Frankenstein)
Gremlins (sea monkeys)
“I gave you life!”
Torch- and pitchfork-wielding mob of anti-science townsfolk
I liked Frankenweenie more than I had been expecting to and there were many places where the entire audience burst out laughing. It wasn’t a particularly strong story, but it was very fun to watch. This is a dark film, though – I wouldn’t recommend it for younger children. In fact, at the darkest moment in the film (not the one you’d expect, given the subject) a child in the row (I would guess she was between 6 and 8 years old) behind me began to say that she wanted to go home. NOW!
Bio: George Gensler is a copyrights specialist during the week and a runner on the weekends. She lives in New York City now, but has lived in five countries on three continents. She grew up traveling the world, but her official residence was in Southern California and every visit home included a trip to Disneyland. She has also visited every Disney Park around the world and sailed on board two Disney cruises. She threw in a visit to the Disney Family museum in San Francisco for good measure, and has had the Premier Disney Park Pass since its inception.