Instead of a morbid musical, “Frankenweenie” is an homage to the great black-and-white monster movies of the 1940s and ’50s. The entire third act practically turns into an old-fashioned monster movie, with all sorts of undead animals getting electrically reanimated to do some damage on a small-town carnival. But, as much fun as that third act is, the second act of “Frankenweenie” could use a little electricity of its own.
The movie follows the exploits of a young science-loving teen named Victor. Victor has a faithful dog named Sparky who helps him make movies and practice his science experiments, so when Sparky is accidentally hit by a car, Victor pulls a Frankenstein of his own to reanimate Sparky. Soon enough, though, Victor’s entire class is hip to his scheme, and begin reanimating their own fallen pets with varying degrees of consequence.
The look of “Frankenweenie” is a stunner. Victor’s neighborhood might as well be in the same town as “Edward Scissorhands,” expertly mimicing the perfectly-maniured-lawns-and-pearls-while-vacuuming stereotype of 1950s Americana. The tone, on the other hand, is a little creepier than you’d expect, especially if your kids are still coming off the high of last week’s much goofier “Hotel Transylvania.”
Burtonphiles are going to eat “Frankenweenie” up — in fact, they probably already have, since the movie is based on a 27-minute live-action short Burton made in 1984. This new version is a much different affair, if only for the fact that Burton has become a much better innovator in the intervening years (though, it should be noted, his twisted sense of humor was already present in the ’84 short). Danny Elfman’s score is also worth noting, easily his best and most memorable in years.
One curious notion about the timing of “Frankenweenie,” though — it is the third family horror movie to come out in seven weeks (“ParaNorman” and “Hotel Transylvania” are the others). While I did find the charms in all three movies, go figure the one about the undead puppy would turn out best in show.
Rated PG for scary stuff. 87 minutes, 2012.
Director: Tim Burton. Voices: Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara.
(★★★ out of ★★★★)
Read more of Jesse Hoheisel’s reviews at thesuperawesomemovieblog.com.