There is an old VHS tape in my parents’ house with the original Frankenweenie short on it. My mother must have recorded it from the television, along with other Halloween-ish shows in the early 1990s. During my childhood, my siblings and I watched that wonderful little film countless times. The story of young Victor, Sparky and that crazy town with the fantastic pet cemetery is very dear to me. I had my worries about the animated feature, if it could possibly live up to its predecessor. Thankfully, Tim Burton kept to the heart of his story.
The animated Frankenweenie is basically an extension of the short. The main plot is Victor (voice of Charlie Tahan) bringing Sparky back to life and the town seeing the reanimated dog as a menace. Alongside that, we get a broader view of Victor’s classmates, who all look like young horror film characters. When the new science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (voice of Martin Landau), brings out the science fair, the kids see it as a competition. Edgar (voice of Atticus Shaffer), a young Igor, discovers that Victor brought Sparky back to life, and blackmails Victor to show him how he did it. Soon, Edgar and all the other kids are harnessing the town’s frequent lightning strikes and bringing all sorts of pets to life.
To my delight, some of the best details of the short are present in the film. Some of the tombstones in the pet cemetery are just how I remember them in the short’s credits, my favorite always being the tall slender one for a pet snake. Victor’s lab still has the light-up Christmas reindeer and a clock spinning backwards. Dramatic shots using the front of cars still pack a powerful punch. Even one of the neighbors looks just like an old familiar character, but sadly doesn’t yell, “It tried to eat my Raymond!”
To my surprise, the new parts of the movie were just as fun. There’s a weird girl with a psychic cat. The other kids’ life-giving experiments become fun nods to classic horror movies, including The Wolfman, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and Godzilla. We see more of Sparky’s adventures while Victor is at school. And Mr. Rzykruski was so wonderfully creepy that a child in the theater started crying every time he was on screen for a while.
There’s a moment in the film that may come off as preachy, but I see only Burton’s good intentions. At a PTA meeting, some parents decide to get rid of Mr. Rzykruski, not liking -or understanding- the things he is teaching. Though he ends up insulting everyone, he makes a good point that not enough people are interested in science and though the angry mob of parents might never care to understand, there’s still hope for their children. If there’s anything kids need these days, it’s a push to pursue science.
No matter your age, Frankenweenie is good fun and perfect for the Halloween season. There is enough action and wonderfully weird characters for kids and plenty of horror movie style and references for adults. Perhaps this could be a springboard for kids to seek out horror films that served as inspiration for Frankenweenie. And even though it’s black and white, there is no need to see it in 3D, this film does not need a gimmick to be good. Put that money towards some popcorn, or a young scientist’s education.
“Your dog is alive!”
Editor’s Note: That link to the Frankenweenie short also contains another Burton short entitled Vincent, only five minutes long. Frankenweenie starts around 5:55. Enjoy!