By Roger Thomas for the SNAP
Monday, October 22, 2012 —
There are three supernatural animated features playing in a theater near you. I have already reviewed two of them: “Para-Norman” and “Hotel Transylvania.” I liked the former more than the latter. These two films have been in theaters for several weeks or more, while the third, “Frankenweenie,” has just recently opened.
“Frankenweenie” is the latest animated film from the highly creative director Tim Burton. This is Burton’s second film this year; the May release of “Dark Shadows,” another supernatural story of vampires, werewolves and witches, came first. Between the two, “Frankenweenie” outshines “Shadows” in every way. Over the years Burton has retold many stories with great success: “Batman,” “Sleepy Hollow,” Planet of the Apes,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and his most successful revision “Alice in Wonderland” which grossed over $1 billion worldwide (Yes, that is billion with a B). Even “Dark Shadows” is a retelling of a 1960s daytime soap opera. “Frankenweenie” is, of course, a retelling of Mary Shelley’s classic “Frankenstein.”
Burton is far from the first to film this story, but his version is certainly one of the more unique. Victor Frankenstein in this film is a pre-adolescent science enthusiast who loves his pet dog, Sparky, very much. When an accident claims Sparky’s life, Victor is devastated. Then, his science teacher lectures about how electricity can re-animate dead tissue, and Victor comes up with an idea. Many things happen both before and after Victor’s experiment, but those things should be discovered in a darkened theater.
The film works on several levels. The animation is wonderful. I personally support Burton’s decision to release the film in black and white, but I do have to wonder if the lack of color is one of the reasons the film has not been successful at the box office. One should not allow the colorlessness to deter one from experiencing “Frankenweenie;” it does not detract from the enjoyment of the film and many of our greatest films are in black and white. The humor is sharp, witty and clever. There are little touches like a turtle in the film that is named Shelley, a reference obviously to the author of the source material (Notice the spelling). It is also amusing, because the boy who owns the turtle is just about bright enough to only come up with a name like Shelley for his pet and not anything more creative. Beyond the humor, real emotion is present in the film, driven by smart writing. There is a great subplot about a science teacher whose job is threatened because he actually wants to open the minds of his students. And there is a mayor who personifies everything wrong with some modern politicians. “Frankenweenie” has many elements that make it a very special animated feature.
So, in a contest of the three supernatural animated films, which one reigns supreme? “Hotel Transylvania” is the least creative in both story and presentation. “ParaNorman” has many strengths and is perhaps the most artistic of the three. But as I reflect on each, I have to give the edge to “Frankenwee-nie.” Neither of the other films have the emotional range or clarity that one finds in “Frankenweenie.” “ParaNorman” and “Frankenweenie” are both deserving of a viewing, but if a viewer is only going to see one of the films, “Frankenweenie” would be the choice. Sadly, most people are choosing the least of the three; “Hotel Transylvania” has made more than the other two films combined. But that can change if enough people decide to embrace Tim Burton’s latest and discover the story of “Frankenweenie.”