“Sometimes grown-ups don’t know what they’re talking about.”
The H-Bomb: Victor Frankenstien is a precocious young boy living in the average suburban town of New Holland, whose best friend in the whole world is his dog, Sparky. One day, during an innocent baseball game, Sparky goes running into the street to fetch a home run, when he is tragically struck by a car and killed. Thinking he‘s lost his four-legged friend forever, a saddened Victor says goodbye to Sparky and buries him in the local Pet Cemetery. But after watching his creepy science teacher perform a demonstration involving a dead frog and electricity, Victor gets an idea. An idea that could not only bring his beloved dog back to him, but that could also earn him the top prize at the upcoming Science Fair.
So, later that night, Victor retrieves the pooch from his grave, and, using a very familiar looking set up involving wind and lightning, brings the now very aptly named Sparky back to life. Despite being covered with stitches and overall looking worse for wear, Sparky is his old loyal, friendly self, and Victor couldn’t be happier. But, he knows that he has to keep his little experiment a secret, from his friends, his neighbors, and even his own parents, so he hides Sparky up in the attic, hoping that he’ll stay out of trouble.
Unfortunately, Sparky is a very adventurous dog who likes to go exploring, and it’s not long before he is spotted by people who recognize him. One of these people, Edgar ‘E’ Gore, an ugly, hunchbacked classmate of Victor’s, blackmails him into spilling his secrets, and soon every kid in the class tries to bring back dead creatures of some kind or another. However, their experiments go horribly awry, as the animals they resurrect back turn into monsters that threaten to destroy the entire town, and it’s now up to Victor and Sparky to stop them . . . if they can.
Frankenweenie is pure Tim Burton. Perhaps the purest Tim Burton we’ve seen in a long, long time (the past decade has not been his best). A feature length retooling of one of the oddball auteur’s earliest shorts, this story is obviously a personal one for Burton, as it is his most sincere and heartfelt film since 2003’s Big Fish (his last genuinely good film, in this H-Man’s opinion), and it constantly pays homage to the monster movies of yesteryear that he holds so near and dear to him. It also features a number of parallels to what many consider to be his most personal film, Edward Scissorhands.
As much as Frankenweenie tries, and succeeds, in appealing to children, with all the wacky, slap-sticky humor that it contains, it’s the aficionados of classic horror films (the Universal Monster movies, in particular) who will get the most out of it. This is Burton’s love letter to the horror cinema of old, as nearly every scene contains at least one wink and nod of some kind (some obvious, some subtle). Everything, from Dracula to Godzilla, from Boris Karloff to Vincent Price, gets a shout out here, and I most definitely got a nice kick out of it.
Frankenweenie also scores high marks on an aesthetic level for its incredible stop-motion animation, beautifully rendered in Black & White, that makes it a pure visual delight. Yes, it has the typical gothic Tim Burton look to it all, but when has that ever been anything but a good thing? I should note that the film is being released in 3-D, and for me, as usual, it added absolutely nothing to the experience, unless I were to count the headache I got from looking through those Goddamn 3-D glasses for ninety-some odd minutes.
While the film does feature Burton’s typically strong visual style, it is also burdened by some of his typical weaknesses, namely in plot and pacing. To me, lackadaisical pacing is something that has afflicted almost all of Burton’s films, including his Batman pictures, and this one is no different. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the movie boring, but there was a slight lack of energy that kept it from being as alive as it should have been. It’s not as bad as say . . . Corpse Bride, where I found the plot to be downright dull, but, it’s something that Burton still struggles with. He is most definitely a visual stylist first and a storyteller a distant second.
But, even with its flaws, Frankenweenie is still worth going to see on the big screen, just for the visuals, alone. It manages to be fairly funny throughout, though never in a way that will have you peeing yourself in the aisles, and there are moments, I’m sure you can guess which ones, that are legitimately touching. Everyone, old and young alike, should find something to love here . . . just as long as the young don’t go trying to dig up their dead pets, afterwards.