After several years of mostly crafting other people’s work into his own vision, Tim Burton returned to his own material for Frankenweenie. An expansion of a live-action short Burton made for Disney way back in 1984, the black-and-white and stop-motion animation film plays homage to horror classics of yesteryear and the bond between a boy and his dog.
Written by John August, the story centers around a lonely boy named Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan) and his beloved dog, Sparky. In small town of New Holland where they live, Charlie is regarded as a bit of an oddball. That’s saying something, since most of the kids in town are Goth looking weirdo’s His parents, Ben (Martin Short) and Susan (Catherine O’Hara), do everything they can think of to try and bring Charlie out of his shell, but nothing seems to work. Try as they might, Sparky is the only thing in his life Charlie seems to relate to.
After Sparky is killed running into the street to retrieve a baseball, Victor is crushed. However, in the midst of his grief, Victor finds inspiration from his Eastern European science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau). Charlie is determined to try the ultimate experiment: bring Sparky back to life! The goal is accomplished via an electrical surge; Victor tries, but fails, to keep Sparky’s resurrection a secret. This set off a chain reaction, with several of Victor’s classmates resurrecting their own pets to disastrous consequences.
Quite a bit had to be added to the original 26-minute short film to produce this 87 minute feature. The narrative does move a bit sluggishly at times, at least until the final act. Even so, the visuals are so completely mesmerizing that that it’s easy to forgive the story for its shortcomings. At one point, the film starts to say something to parents about the benefits of science education, but the any such goals are quickly abandon for the original message of the importance of the relationship between a boy and his dog.
Aside from that, Frankenweenie is a nostalgic trip for fans of movie monsters. Victor is an obvious reference to Dr. Frankenstein and his neighbor is Mr. Van Helsing. There are several other references, some more modern than others. I won’t reveal anymore here because to do so would spoil the fun. Needless to say, I had a great time picking out all the references. So, while Frankenweenie isn’t a perfect film, Burton has crafted a fun, nostalgic story that should play well with kids as well as adults. I have a feeling this one just might become a Halloween favorite around my house.
Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Disney’s 1080p transfer is top flight stuff. This presentation just pulls you right into Victor’s world, with clean whites, fabulous grays and inky blacks. The image looks wonderful, showing dimensionality and depth throughout. Contrast is spot on and edges are clean and refined. There are absolutely no digital anomalies to report.
The audio is just as good. The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 surround track will completely envelop you. Dialogue is centered and perfectly clear. Rear speaker activity is surprisingly full, with the smaller elements never being outdone. Ambient sounds come through nicely, also never drowned out by dialogue or other potential distractions. Cross channels dynamics are also excellent.
English, English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are available.
The following special features are included:
- Minatures in Motion: Bringing Frankenweenie to Life (HD, 23:06) This solid “making-of” featurette provides a behind the scenes look at the London production. Director Tim Burton, executive producer Don Hahn, producer Allison Abbate, animation director Trey Thomas and other members of the cast and crew discuss nearly everything you’d want to know about the construction and production of the film.
- Frankenweenie Touring Exhibit (HD, 4:36) Sketches, production photographs, models, interactive exhibits and more are part of a traveling art exhibit designed to showcase the work that went into the film.
- Original Live-Action Frankenweenie Short (HD, 30:03) Burton’s 1984 original short film of the same name, starring young Barret Oliver (The NeverEnding Story‘s Bastian), Shelley Duvall and Daniel Stern. It also features appearances by Sofia Coppola (credited as “Domino” for some reason) and The Wonder Years Jason Hervey.
- Captain Sparky vs. The Flying Saucers (HD, 2:26) A new animated short with Victor, Sparky and a homemade stop-motion short-film-within-a-film.
- Music Video (HD, 3:54) The Plain White T’s perform “Pet Sematary.”
- A DVD of the film.
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