ďI can fix that.Ē
- Victor Frankenstein
Hereís what I wrote about this one in my theatrical review:
ďFrankenweenie isnít so much an extended version of director Tim Burtonís famed 1984 short film of the same name as it is a reinvention of it. Taking the idea of the original, young boy loses his beloved dog in a tragic accident only to bring him back to life Mary Shelley-style, this new version working from a script by frequent Burton collaborator John August (Dark Shadows, Big Fish, Corpse Bride) expands upon it exponentially, producing a life-affirming story of youth and friendship suitable all ages. While the images are gothic in nature and the creatures somewhat extreme the film itself is consistently universal, itís inherently childlike view of life, love and death as old school Disney as anything the studio has produced at any point in its revered animation history.
The film revolves around brilliant young New Holland inventor Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan), beloved son to adoring parents Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein (Martin Short, Catherine OíHara) and devoted student to eccentric science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau). A bit of a loner, he nonetheless shares remarkable kinship with his happy-go-lucky dog Sparky, the two spending as much time as possible with one another never taking a single solitary second for granted.
A ball bounces into the street. A carís tires screech to a deafening halt. New Holland townsfolk look on in utter horror. Sparky is gone and Victor is heartbroken, is one and only friend no longer a part of his life.
Or is he? One thing of course leads to another and low and behold Victor lives up to his namesake and uses the forces of nature and the power of his scientific acumen to bring Sparky back from the grave. But you know that much, itís what happens next that gives Frankenweenie its gleefully macabre kicks. Using Universal horror movies of the 1930s and Ď40s for inspiration, this black and white stop-motion marvel delivers upon its promise in almost all of the ways that matter, its cast of unusual characters forced to come together as one to stop their idiosyncratic creations from stomping New Holland into the ground.
The funny thing is, though, for all the carnage, for all the various bits of homage and gentle winks of inspiration pointing towards everything from Frankenstein to The Creature from the Black Lagoon to Godzilla to even Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedraís enduring tales of Don Quixote, the movie never loses sight of what matters most. Augustís screenplay keeps its heart always in the right place, the focus on Victor and Sparkyís undying love, in the end their relationship a gentle reminder that the cures for disenfranchised and materialistic malaise can usually be found in the simplest, oftentimes smallest of places.
Itís thin, that goes without saying, and while I know August and Burton are using many of the stereotypes they present as satirical fodder to hopefully make a larger point what theyíre saying doesnít always connect quite as clearly as Iím sure they wanted it to. For me, I also canít say that this gothic animated tale resonated in near the same fashion as ParaNorman did back in August, both films covering rather similar terrain even if both do take gigantically different paths to reach their somewhat related conclusions.
Yet the animation is beautiful, while the vocal work is top-notch all the way around. I especially loved actress Winona Ryderís return to Burtonís darkly comic world, her supporting performance as Victorís next door neighbor (whom he may have something of a crush on) Elsa Van Helsing a beauteous revelation reminiscent of her work in Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands. It also goes without saying that the animation is positively divine, a finale concerning a flaming windmill and a bat-cat hybrid a thrilling exercise in visual storytelling dynamics verging on perfection.
Itís interesting, in a year where we get one Tim Burton film, Dark Shadows, where it seemed like the director lost interest at some point delivering only three-quarters of a finished film before settling for a ho-hum denouement that felt as if it were made up on the spot, now we have another based on a 28-year-old short film where you get the sense just the opposite had taken place. Frankenweenie builds as it goes along, gets stronger as it nears its finale, the whole thing feeling as if Burton was reinvigorated by the return to his roots finding newfound inspiration in old ideas. While not a great movie, it is a very, very good one, the electric jolt it delivers a reinvigorating surge sure to please young and old alike.Ē
Iím just as lukewarm Ė but to the positive side of the equation Ė in regards to this movie watching it again at home as I was in the theatre. Itís pleasant enough, and the emotions behind it are strong, but overall it just doesnít resonate quite as deeply or as fully as I kept hoping it would. At the same time, Disneyís Blu-ray presentation, both 3D and 2D, is glorious, and thereís not a single part of me that doesnít think family audiences wonít be pleased as punch if they decide to add this four-disc set to their home library.
Frankenweenie is presented on a dual-layer 50GB 3DBlu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1.85:1/1080p transfer. It is also presented on a standard 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 1.85:1/1080p transfer.
This Blu-ray features an English Dolby TrueHD 7.1 soundtrack as well as French DTS-HD HR 7.1 and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks and features optional English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
Extras here include:
∑ Captain Sparky vs The Flying Saucers (2:26)
∑ Frankenweenie Ė The Original Tim Burton Live-Action Short (30:03)
∑ Miniatures in Motion: Bringing Frankenweenie to Life (23:06)
∑ Frankenweenie Touring Exhibit (4:36)
∑ Plain White Tís ďPet SemataryĒ Music Video (3:54)
The big item here is obviously Burtonís original 1984 short film, and while it would have been nice for it to have gotten a hi-def presentation one sort of understands why Disney wouldnít feel the need to fund a full-scale restoration. Itís a wonderful addition, either way, if only to see the Shelly Duvall and Daniel Stern fit themselves into Burtonís surrealistic child-like macabre world as if they were born to do so.
As for the rest, the Captain Sparky short is surprisingly unsatisfying (and, it must be said, not particularly amusing), while the Plain White Tís music video and the touring featurette feel more like pointless fodder to fill out the Blu-ray than they do anything else. The same cannot be said for the excellent making-of featurette Miniatures in Motion, this wonderfully in-depth piece positively as essential a watch as these things come.
As a film, Frankenweenie is solidly entertaining but hardly flawless. As a Blu-ray presentation (both 3D and 2D), Disneyís presentation of the movie is close to perfect, making this four-disc collection extremely easy to recommend.