Friday, October 12, 2012

Frankenweenie among Burton's best



Years ago, I would see the VHS case for the live-action "Frankenweenie" short film Tim Burton made in the 1980s everywhere. It was pink and had the most messed up dog on the cover. The short starred Daniel Stern (the tall burglar from "Home Alone") and the kid from "The Neverending Story." The basics--dog is boy's only friend, dog dies, boy brings dog back to life-- are the same as the newly released animated feature. Usually, I would balk at such a remake, especially so many years later. "Frankenweenie," however, is worth it.

The best of Burton's works aren't about the weird situations or kooky gimmicks. His best works are about heart. Burton can do empathy as well as anyone when he tries. Yes, I am a fan of  "Big Fish" and thought the sentimentality of the film was perfect. The same goes for "Frankenweenie." The relationship between Victor and Sparky is not unbelievable. Victor spends more time with his dog than any person because the dog knows what he needs and provides it.

Being a feature, Burton added a few new elements to the plot. A hotly contested science fair, a firebrand science teacher and few other reanimated pets join in the fun. The science teacher, wonderfully voiced by Martin Landau and looking like a mix of Christopher Lee and Vincent Price (it IS a Tim Burton movie, after all), gives one of the best speeches of the year to a PTA meeting full of parents and teachers questioning his methods. Glorious.

Other highlights include a can of Miracle-Gro and a tug-at-your-heart-strings finally that is simultaneously an homage to the 1931 "Frankenstein" and classic Disney.

"Frankenweenie" should not be dismissed as just something for the kids to watch around Halloween. It's a joy for all ages.

THREAT LEVEL: ORANGE. It's no "Edward Scissorhands," but "Frankenweenie" should take a valued place among Tim Burton's filmography.

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