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Is the new ‘Frankenweenie’ awesome? Maybe

By Christopher K. Conner

Digging up an idea he originally used in a short film the year before “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”, Tim Burton has brought “Frankenweenie” back to life. This time around Burton uses unnaturally proportioned stop-motion puppets instead of live action and throws in plenty of references to classic horror films.

Young Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) lives in New Holland. Victor spends his much of his free time in the attic, making monster films starring his dog, Sparky. He is a loner, except for his canine companion. Initially it seems that Victor is strange, but as the audience is introduced to the other denizens of New Holland, Victor doesn’t seem all that unusual.

At school a new science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau),takes over Victor’s class. Many of the kids have strange and superstitious explanations for the death of their previous science teacher, who was struck by lightning. As they recount their opinions, their surreal descriptions of the circumstances leads to an even more disturbing explanation from Mr. Rzykruski. Mr. Rzykruski’s face is so impossibly long that it is difficult to watch both the mouth and eyes at the same time and his heavy accent and devotion to science make him seem unhinged.

Still the kids take to him, particularly Victor. Mr. Rzykruski challenges the students to be creative for the upcoming science fair. When Victor approaches his father about the science fair, Mr. Frankenstein allows him to participate, but only if he tries out a sport. It is at his first attempt at batting that Sparky, chasing a well hit ball, is struck by a car.

Now without his only friend, Victor is depressed, but Mr. Rzykruski’s demonstration of electrical current flowing through a deceased frog inspires the boy to bring his friend back to life. The improbable machine that Victor builds manages to achieve his goal and Sparky is reanimated, looking somewhat worse for wear, but just as happy and dopey.

While Victor is at school, Sparky escapes and wreaks minor havoc. Eventually one of Victor’s classmates discovers Sparky and assumes the dog is Victor’s experiment. The boy, Edgar Gore, is also friendless and wants to be Victor’s partner in the science fair. Edgar threatens to expose the Victor’s secret unless Victor shows him how the reanimation works. Victor relents, and eventually many of his classmates try the same experiment on their own pets.

The prevalence of zombies, vampires and werewolves on television blunts much of the shock that an audience should have at the notion of reanimated corpses, let alone those of beloved pets. Whether it is that exposure, or the conversion of live action to stop motion puppetry that adds distance to the experience, the kids seemed unafraid of any part of this version of “Frankenweenie.”
Digging up an idea he originally used in a short film the year before “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure”, Tim Burton has brought “Frankenweenie” back to life. This time around Burton uses unnaturally proportioned stop-motion puppets instead of live action and throws in plenty of references to classic horror films.

Young Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) lives in New Holland. Victor spends his much of his free time in the attic, making monster films starring his dog, Sparky. He is a loner, except for his canine companion. Initially it seems that Victor is strange, but as the audience is introduced to the other denizens of New Holland, Victor doesn’t seem all that unusual.

At school a new science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau),takes over Victor’s class. Many of the kids have strange and superstitious explanations for the death of their previous science teacher, who was struck by lightning. As they recount their opinions, their surreal descriptions of the circumstances leads to an even more disturbing explanation from Mr. Rzykruski. Mr. Rzykruski’s face is so impossibly long that it is difficult to watch both the mouth and eyes at the same time and his heavy accent and devotion to science make him seem unhinged.

Still the kids take to him, particularly Victor. Mr. Rzykruski challenges the students to be creative for the upcoming science fair. When Victor approaches his father about the science fair, Mr. Frankenstein allows him to participate, but only if he tries out a sport. It is at his first attempt at batting that Sparky, chasing a well hit ball, is struck by a car.

Now without his only friend, Victor is depressed, but Mr. Rzykruski’s demonstration of electrical current flowing through a deceased frog inspires the boy to bring his friend back to life. The improbable machine that Victor builds manages to achieve his goal and Sparky is reanimated, looking somewhat worse for wear, but just as happy and dopey.

While Victor is at school, Sparky escapes and wreaks minor havoc. Eventually one of Victor’s classmates discovers Sparky and assumes the dog is Victor’s experiment. The boy, Edgar Gore, is also friendless and wants to be Victor’s partner in the science fair. Edgar threatens to expose the Victor’s secret unless Victor shows him how the reanimation works. Victor relents, and eventually many of his classmates try the same experiment on their own pets.

The prevalence of zombies, vampires and werewolves on television blunts much of the shock that an audience should have at the notion of reanimated corpses, let alone those of beloved pets. Whether it is that exposure, or the conversion of live action to stop motion puppetry that adds distance to the experience, the kids seemed unafraid of any part of this version of “Frankenweenie.”

As the adult in the midst of three children, I spent much of my time playing “spot the reference” as any number of classic horror movie standards had their brief appearances on screen all the while being worried the kids were not having as good of a time as I was. Afterwards, though, my son rated this one “awesome.” Maybe a bit strong of an endorsement, but if a kid that’s never seen a horror film and an adult Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney fan can enjoy the same movie, maybe it isn’t that far off.
As the adult in the midst of three children, I spent much of my time playing “spot the reference” as any number of classic horror movie standards had their brief appearances on screen all the while being worried the kids were not having as good of a time as I was. Afterwards, though, my son rated this one “awesome.” Maybe a bit strong of an endorsement, but if a kid that’s never seen a horror film and an adult Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney fan can enjoy the same movie, maybe it isn’t that far off.









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