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Frankenweenie (2012)

Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 1/8/2013

All Ratings out of




Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/7/2013

It stands to reason that a short film would be less expensive, less time-consuming, and less labor-intensive than a feature-length film. Thus, many directors have used short films as a sort of calling card, having them serve as a way to show off their talents or by having the short film play as a trailer for a proposed longer version of the story. Several famous movies, including The Evil Dead, Slingblade, Napoleon Dynamite, and Saw, were based on short films. Typically, the window of time between the short film and the feature-length version is relatively small. I certainly can't think of another which rivals that of Frankenweenie. Tim Burton directed a 30-minute version of the story in 1982 and thirty years later, we finally get the longer version. Was it worth the wait?

Frankenweenie tells the story of young Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan), whose two loves in life are making movies and his dog, Sparky. Victor's parents (voiced by Martin Short and Catherine O'Hara) support him in his hobbies, but they worry about the fact that he has no friends. Victor does play baseball and during a game, Sparky chases a ball into the road and is hit by a car. Victor is very shaken up by Sparky's death, but his new science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau), gives the boy an idea. He retrieves Sparky's body from the pet cemetery and using household appliances, builds a contraption to attract lighting. The experiment works and Sparky is brought back to life. Victor's attempts at keeping Sparky's resurrection a secret doesn't work for long and soon the neighbors are in fear and his classmates want to know how he did it.

In the event that you weren't aware, Frankenweenie is a stop-motion animated feature film. Disney has done the right thing by including the original live-action short film on the Blu-ray Disc. However, the decision to actually include an impressive extra feature may have been a mistake, as it allows us to compare the two and see that the original short is far superior to the new animated movie. The original movie took the idea of a boy and his dog and combined it with ideas from 1931's Frankenstein. The result was a well-paced movie which was only interested in telling a little story. Victor (played by Barret Oliver) is a normal boy (other than the fact that he wears pleated pants) who simply wants his dog back. This simple tale is capped off by a finale which plays as a homage to Frankenstein.

With the 2012 Frankenweenie, we get some changes, most of which aren't welcome. The most obvious one is that this new film is stop-motion animation, as opposed to live-action. With The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride, Tim Burton has shown a love for this medium, so the choice of the format isn't necessarily surprising. Also, this allows for more creative freedom with Sparky and less chance for cheesy looking makeup appliances on a dog. Burton has chosen to keep the black and white look of the original, which I'm sure seemed like a good idea at the time, as it reinforces the idea that the film is a nod to classic horror movies. But, let's be honest, outside of an arthouse or revival theater, black-and-white animation, especially stop-motion, is an odd idea and it's not very pleasing to the eye.

Beyond the look of the movie, there are problems with the story and the pacing. In order to flesh out the story, we get a new subplot concerning a science fair and the fact that Victor's classmates want to steal his reanimation idea for themselves. This aspect of the story makes sense, but the end result does not. I don't want to give too much away, but suffice it to say that when the other kids attempt to bring animals back to life, the results are not the same. But, we are never told why. As noted above, in the short film, Victor is portrayed as a normal kid whose unusual idea got out of hand. In the new movie, Victor is an outcast who has no friends and his parents worry about him. The only person who wants to be Victor's friend is "E" Gore (voiced by Atticus Shaffer), but Victor rejects this hunchbacked boy. The other kids are portrayed as bullies. Elsa Van Helsing (voiced by Winona Ryder) lives next door to Victor with her uncle, but her story goes nowhere and she seems to exist for the sole reason of having a dog who looks like The Bride of Frankenstein. The film's pacing is very slack and the movie seems to be spinning its wheels at times.

With each of his recent films, Tim Burton has demonstrated that he is less and less in touch with filmgoers and their tastes. Yes, Burton has always been eclectic and we should applaud artists who do their own things, but his films seem so determined to celebrate the strange that it's difficult to find anything to hook an audience. This approach was cool and new when Beetlejuice debuted in 1988, but since that time other filmmakers have introduced new quirky ideas, while Burton seems to retreat further and further into a world of goth madness. That aside, here's the true litmus test -- my kids left the room after 45 minutes and when asked later on, had no interest in finishing Frankenweenie. The movie is dull and uninspired and the animation isn't eye-catching. It's interesting to note that Frankenweenie and ParaNorman were released so close to one another, as they are very similar, but the latter is far superior.

Frankenweenie made me wonder what scientific applications a muffin tin has on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects from the source material, as one would expect from an animated film of this nature. The black-and-white image leans to the darker end of the spectrum and doesn’t look as crisp as some other B&W films I’ve seen on Blu-ray Disc. The image is nicely detailed, as we can make out every nook and cranny on the puppets and they are nicely separated from the backgrounds. This set also includes a 3D Blu-ray Disc where the film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and a MVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 30/16 Mbps. The depth on the image is good, but we don’t get many effects which have that “coming at you” feel. In some shots, the 3D effects get somewhat muddy because the picture is too dark. The various levels of black and grey don’t really lend themselves to creating great 3D. Both versions carry a DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 5.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are nicely done, as they highlight sounds coming from the right and left of the screen. The electrical storm and most of the finale create ample surround sound effects which are nicely detailed -- we can easily pick out individual sounds here. The thunder and the monsters in the finale create impressive subwoofer effects.

The Frankenweenie Blu-ray Disc contains several extras. "Captain Sparky vs. The Flying Saucers" (2 1/2 minutes) is a short which features another of Victor's films -- this is very similar to the opening of the movie. "Miniatures in Motion: Bringing Frankenweenie to Life" (23 minutes) is a making-of featurette which offers interviews with Burton, as well as producers Don Hahn and Allison Abbate. We get a tour of the working environment where we see the puppets being built and repaired, the miniature sets, and the stop-motion animation process. The piece does a great job of showing all of the precise, detailed work which goes into creating all of the specifics of the film's little world. We get to see how some of the sets and puppets were put on display for the public in "Frankenweenie Touring Exhibit" (5 minutes). "Original Live Action Frakenweenie Short" (30 minutes) allows us to check out the 1982 film which was the inspiration for Frankenweenie (and, as noted above, is much better). It is interesting to see how many aspects of the short were reproduced for the feature film. The final extra is the MUSIC VIDEO for Plain White T's cover of The Ramones' "Pet Sematary", which I guess is appropriate.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.