Greetings again from the darkness. Being a huge fan of Tim Burton’s 1984 short of the same title, news of a feature length feature was very exciting. It’s obvious from both films that director Mr. Burton holds the story and project close to his heart. The obvious guess is that young Victor Frankenstein has much in common with the enigmatic director’s childhood experience … a social misfit who finds joy in less than popular outlets (science, sci-fi, filmmaking). Burton then adds the crucial elements of nostalgia and fun.
The story begins simply enough, Victor – a socially inept boy, whose only friend is his loyal dog Sparky, quickly connects with the new science teacher, Mr. Rzykroski (who bears a striking resemblance to the late, great Vincent Price). Victor’s parents try to get him more engaged and that leads to a tragic accident that kills Sparky. Victor is heart-broken but his scientific mind leads to a shocking development thanks to a local lightning storm. Soon enough, Sparky is back! Of course, the secret gets out and the Science Fair takes on quite a competitive nature.
Burton really treats the film as an homage to old monster, horror and sci-fi films. We get tributes to Frankenstein, The Mummy, Dracula (complete with Christopher Lee), Godzilla, Bride of Frankenstein, Gremlins, Jurrassic Park and others I certainly missed on first viewing. But this is so much more. Mr. Rzykroski gives a less than PC speech to the local townspeople, and though it is straight to the point, that point is lost on these fine folks. The importance of science and learning and accepting the differences of others is all touched upon, but not in a preachy way.
The voice work is stellar thanks to Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Winona Ryder, Charlie Tahan, Martin Landau and Atticus Shaffer (Brick on “The Middle”). The style and texture of the film is extraordinary. The shadows and lighting provide an atmosphere that adds just enough creepiness. The detail involved with the characters and setting is remarkable for stop-motion animation. Not just that, but how many movies have you seen recently that include a cat-bat, sea monkeys, and a giant turtle? The suburban setting is almost identical to the neighborhood seen in Burton’s Edward Scissorhands, just without the 1960’s color palette.
This is excellent movie entertainmentand FUN for adults and children alike. Unfortunately, the black and white presentation has meant a lack of interest from today’s kids. Sure it has some darkness to it, but the PG rating means nothing too heavy. This is Tim Burton at his finest … and without Johnny Depp or Helena Bonham Carter! Also, Danny Elfman’s score perfectly compliments the story and characters, and stay for the credits to hear a very odd Karen O song.
** NOTE: don’t miss the opportunity to compare the original short with this updated feature length version. The creative differences really show the technical advances over the past 28 years.
SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy fun movies and a tip of the cap to old horror films OR you want to see Tim Burton in peak form
SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you refuse to believe a black & white animated film can provide any entertainment value
watch the trailer: