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MOVIE REVIEW: Frankenweenie

Frankenweenie 3D is a dark Burtonesque joy for children and adults alike. Maybe not for the youngest of crowds, Frankenweenie does brings life to a dying artisan form of filmmaking.

Mad Science and Man's Best Friend

★ ★ ★ 1/2 out of 5 buckets | Matinee or DVD

Rated: PG Action, thematic elements and scary images

Release Date: October 5, 2012

Runtime: 1 hour 27 minutes

Director: Tim Burton

Writers: John August, Tim Burton, Leonard Ripps

Cast: Catherine O'Hara, Robert Capron, Conchata Ferrell, Martin Short, Christopher Lee, Winona Ryder, James Hiroyuki Liao, Atticus Shaffer, Dee Bradley Baker, Charlie Tahan, Frank Welker

SYNOPSIS: Young Victor, agonizing over the passing of his beloved dog Sparky. He experiments with lightning to bring his dog back to life. Unfortunately, word gets out about Sparky's return from the dead, resulting in other kids abusing the work that Victor has completed.

REVIEW: A prolific and utterly creative force in moviemaking, director Tim Burton returns for more stop action cinema with the expansion of a Frankenstein homaged film about a boy and his dog. Known for masterful films such as Corpse BrideAlice in Wonderland, and the big screen adaptation of Dark Shadows, he takes his 1984 short film of the same name created with Leonard Ripps and develops it into a feature with help from Dark Shadows writer John August.

Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan, Charlie St. Cloud) is a solitary boy who loves creating monster films with his best friend in the world, his dog Sparky (Frank Welker, Futurama). When Sparky chases after a baseball into the street, he is killed. Victor is distressed and distraught, mourning the lost of his best friend. When Victor's science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau, 9) demonstrates that electricity reanimates, albeit temporarily, a test frog. Taking matters into his own hands, Victor uses a lightning storm to bring Sparky back to light. Keeping Sparky's return a secret from his parents and his classmates, schoolmate Edgar "E" Gore (Atticus Shaffer, The Middle) discovers Sparky wandering around the schoolyard and confronts Victor about Sparky's vigor. When Victor repeats the process with a dead goldfish, Edgar later tells fellow classmates that he is going to win the science fair. Toshiaki (James Hiroyuki Liao, Battle: Los Angeles), Nassor (Martin Short, Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted), Bob (Robert Capron, The Three Stooges), and Weird Girl (Catherine O'Hara, Where the Wild Things Are) decide that they can create bigger and better reanimated pets for the science fair, but with disastrous results for the town of New Holland.

Tim Burton and Disney create another stellar film. Using his vast experience of cinema, Burton reanimates his half hour 1984 live-action film, based on his idea and a screenplay from Leonard Ripps, into a full fledged stop-action feature. Shot in black and white (or with everything decored in grays, more likely), Burton incorporates several monster themes into one. The classic Frankenstein motif embodied by Victor and his dog Sparky is joined by 'The Bride of Frankenstein' in the form of Victor's neighbor Elsa van Helsing (Winona Ryder, The Dilemma) dog Persephone, classic Japanese cold war monsters, sea monkeys resembling a more monstrous version of Gremlins, and a strange mayor of New Holland, Mr. Burgemeister, whose name and look is a homage to a certain stop-action Christmas classic. Even the windmill on the top of the hill of the town of New Holland is a Universal Studios monster mainstay.

In addition to a carefully crafted tale that centers primarily around the love of a boy with his dog, Tim Burton's long time musical composing partner Danny Elfman provides a haunting, beautiful and fine score that accompanies and completes the film. The precise silences left by the characters is filled with an excellent symphonic melody. During every frame of celluloid filled with sadness by Victor over the passing of his friend, to the romping play of Sparky and his puppy love of the dog next door, to the climactic fire-wielding mob processional to the town's hilltop windmill, Danny Elfman proves once again that his style of composing is a perfect match to Burton's sideshow cinematic brilliance.

Burton focuses on always on the scene and the characters. Victor Frankenstein is reminiscent of a young groom from The Corpse Bride. Sparky is the most animated of the entire cast, both alive and dead - and undead. You root for the canine every step of the way. Science teacher Mr. Rzykruski is the spitting image of a long gone but not forgotten Vincent Price, a favorite actor of a younger, more impressionable, adolescent Burton. Nassor is an analgam of both the Universal Studios Doctor Frankenstein and his monster. The girl simply known as the 'Weird Girl' is both weird and hilarious. Lastly, Atticus Shaffer's Edgar "E" Gore is fun to watch, enhanced by a hunchback, crooked teeth, and Shaffer's voicework.

Although a stop-action piece of work, Tim Burton's kids stories are always a little more mature and dark than the normal fare. While some youngsters will love the 'gruesome' monsters that the young citizens of New Holland create during the lightning storms, others may find the subject matter a little scary or unnerving. Even the original death of Sparky (yes, he does die), while done with dignity and taste, may send some of the youngest into loud tears. Regardless, Burton puts his childhood enjoyment of monsters and classic horror into a wonderful children's tale, all with care and love.

Frankenweenie 3D is a dark Burtonesque joy for children and adults alike. Any canine lover will shed a tear for Sparky, and smile with his slobbery and frisky antics. Maybe not for the youngest of crowds, Frankenweenie does brings life to a dying artisan form of filmmaking. 

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