I wondered just what Tim Burton would do with his 1984 live-action short “Frankenweenie.” Officially opening Oct. 5, 2012, Burton’s black and white 3D remake is an 87-minute affectionate parody of horror movies from the 1930s. Neither too frightening for small children or too dumbed down for adults, Burton’s film is an entertaining and endearing film about a boy’s true and deep puppy love.
The original 30-minute 1984 short was the last Disney film using the Buena Vista logo and starred Barret Oliver as the young boy, Victor Frankenstein, who has few friends except his bull terrier named Sparky. Victor has made a monster movie with Sparky as the faux reptilian monster who saves the city by killing a pterodactyl-like flying monster. Sparky later gets hit by a car and the broken-hearted Victor brings him back to life using a machine of his own invention and lightening.
The neighbors are understandably creeped out and they form a mob that drives the terrified do to a miniature golf course. Victor and his pup hid in a windmill. One of the neighbors in the mob accidentally sets the windmill on fire and Victor loses consciousness. Sparky saves Victor, but is killed. The neighbors realize their mistake and help revive Sparky using their cars. The full movie is on YouTube.
Shelly Duval played his mother, Susan. Daniel Stern was the father, Ben Frankenstein.
In this new stop-action 3D animation, everything is in black and white. Tim Burton’s remake takes place in New Holland which might remind you of the scary perfection of the suburbia where a man named Edward Scissorshand came to live. Victor’s grumpy neighbor, Mr. Bergermeister (Martin Short), is the mayor New Holland and he’s clipping his home into perfection and disapproves of Victor. Mr. Bergermeister is caring for his niece, Elsa van Helsing (Winona Ryder), who has a crush on Victor and owns a black female poodle named Persephone van Helsing (Dee Bradley Baker) who’s interested in Sparky.
“Frankenweenie” plays tribute to archetypes of the past and cultural icons.
The story is essentially the same, but the charm in this story is all in the telling. Susan Frankenstein (Catherine O’Hara) is a proper June Cleaver type of wife. She also voices Weird Girl, who owns Mr. Whiskers, a cat who can predict when great things happen and is destined to become a cat lady as opposed to a catwoman.
Short also voices Ben Frankenstein, Victor’s father who seems normal enough. Then there’s Nassor, one of Victor’s classmates who is tall and has a flat head like the Frankenstein monster but also resembles Boris Karloff.
Other classmates include Edgar E. Gore (Atticus Shaffer) who is a deformed hunchback and will remind you of Peter Lorre; Toshiaki (James Hiroyuki Liao) who is a science genius and highly competitive student and Bob (Robert Capron) who is obese and the victim of Toshiaki’s experiments. Their science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau), is a tall man with a suspicious Eastern European accent and an abrupt manner will remind monster movie fans of Vincent Price.
In this monster movie homage, there’s a nod to pet cemeteries, the mummy, vampires (and an uncredited appearance by Christopher Lee), werewolves and Godzilla. There are even some clever homages to Alfred Hitchcock and I’m sure more that I missed. These are the pleasant little surprises that make this tale about true puppy love delightful.