Box Score Cinema: Frankenweenie   Leave a comment

“It’s alive!  Oh, that fellow at Radio Shack said I was mad!  Well, who’s mad now?” – C.M. Burns

Top Line: Frankenweenie is a very typical Tim Burton movie, for good and ill.  On the good side, it’s got cool looking stop motion, lots of quirky and spooky design, and plenty of morbid playfulness.  On the ill side, most of the characters are little more than window dressing and the story, while inventive in places, is pretty weak.

Who (probably) should see this movie: Tim Burton fans.

Who (probably) should not see this movie: People who aren’t Tim Burton fans.

Box Score:

Runtime: 1h:27m – Drags in the middle, so it feels a little longer than this, but the beginning and the end are both great fun.

Actual Start Time: Showtime + 15 Minutes

Friday Morning Demographics: Approximately 20 people, about 60:40 male:female.  Only saw one kid, but it is a school day. 

MPAA: Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images and action

Feels about right.  There’s nothing the least bit adult going on here, though there are some creatures and situations that could scare really young kids. 

Should Be Rated: PG-8

Three Stars:

  1. Martin Landau – Eccentric Science Teacher: 
    Gets many of the best lines, including his rant against the townspeople, which is easily the funniest scene in the movie.
  2. Frank Welker – Sparky the Frankenweenie:
    Welker is Hollywood’s go to animal voice, and he shows why here, doing a lot of great work for a dog who goes through quite a bit.
  3. Charlie Tahan – Victor the Boy Genius:
    Is pretty decent in the standard lonesome/misunderstood boy role, but doesn’t get many opportunities to really stand out.
Need to See In Theater (Baseline: 2):

  • +1 It’s an October movie modeled after Frankenstein, it’s just that time of year, isn’t it?
  • +1 Really good animation looks better big, and this is no exception.  It’s nice to have all that screen real estate for your eyes to drink in.
  • +5 If you’re a Tim Burton fan.
  • -1 There are a lot of neat visual elements (though I saw it in 2D not 3D), but there isn’t anything here that’s overly spectacular. 

Final Score: 3 (Non-Burton Fans), 8 (Burton Fans)

Need to See Eventually (Baseline: 5):

  • +2 Is entertaining pretty much from start to finish.  You won’t be bored.
  • +4 If you’re a Tim Burton fan.
  • -2 There isn’t anything here so different from other Burton films that you’re really missing out if you don’t see it.

Final Score: 5 (If you’re not into the whole Burton thing), 9 (if you are)

Bechdel (Baseline: 5):

  • +1 for Catherine O’Hara in several fun roles, including “Weird Girl” and “Gym Teacher”
  • -1 Every word of Winona Ryder’s dialogue could’ve been lifted from stuff cut out of her part in Beetlejuice, she’s barely in the movie.
  • -3 The closest thing to a passing scene is two nameless mothers sitting on a park bench while minding their babies.  Seriously.

Final Score: 2

IMDb Sez:

Director:

Writers:

  • Tim Burton:
    Gets a credit for characters and story.
  • Leonard Ripps:
    Is mostly a TV writer of not particularly good shows, but he did write the screenplay for the 1984 short of which this film is an expansion.
  • John August:
    Has the actual screenplay credit here.  Previous screenwriting duties include Go (1999), Charlie’s Angles (2000) (which I think is fake, no one wrote that movie), Big Fish (2003), Corpse Bride (2005) and that awful Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) remake. 

Rotten Tomatoes Sez:

All Critics: 84% Top Critics: 85% Audience: 83%

Notes:

  • Danny Elfman does a bang up job with the score and doesn’t overuse any of his signature tricks and flourishes. 
  • There’s no villain, which is usually a bad thing, and this is no exception. 
  • Really could’ve done without the Asian kid having an atrociously stereotypical accent.  He’s literally the only non-white character in the movie, and while I may have misheard this, at one point I think they even had him say “rice” as a joke. 
  • The end, when all the reanimated monsters come to life and start wrecking the town, is a lot of fun. 
  • Burton is the old master at stop motion, and Frankenweenie looks great, but for pure stop motion eye candy, ParaNorman has Frankenweenie beat.
  • Speaking of ParaNorman, while it only slightly exceeds Frankenweenie in terms of animation, the script, characters and themes are a whole different ballgame.  ParaNorman told a spooky, morbid tale that had a great villain and tied together at the end.  Frankenweenie has many of the same elements, but they feel stuck together rather then blended into a coherent whole.  Both start with the standard “kid with no friends” plot, but ParaNorman makes the story more than it seems at first glance, Frankenweenie just uses it for what it is.
  • Martin Landau’s science teacher really, really needed to be in this movie more.  He’s in just a few short scenes, and he steals all of them.  His speech to the PTA is hilarious, and his explanation of lightning should be shown in science classes for how awesome it makes everything sound.

Bottom Line:

Frankenweenie is a good modern take on the enduring classic of Boris Karloff’s iconic Frankenstein.  There’s spooky imagery, lots of electricity, and townspeople with torches.  All your favorite characters are here, a bit twisted for American suburbia.  The mad scientist is now a kid.  The Monster is now his dog that got hit by a car.  Igor is a pesky dweeb from school.  Bride of Frankenstein, and her famously elevated hair, even get a nice nod. 

However, it’s fundamentally a movie about creatures and imagery, not about story, characters or anything else.  The same charge could be leveled at previous Burton stop motion movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride, but it’s much more apparent here.  Like ParaNorman earlier this year, Frankenweenie features an angry mob chasing an innocent abomination near its conclusion; unlike ParaNorman, the way those elements come together is a bit slapdash and very superficial.  The movie ticks off Frankenstein scenes, ideas and imagery like it’s going down a list. 

None of the characters, even the boy scientist who brings his dog back from the dead, are given much to do beyond exactly what you expect them to do.  The other kids are all appropriately weird, but none of them is given enough screen time to be anything more than an animated prop.  The same is true of the adults, even Victor’s parents. 

For example, at one point Victor is trapped inside a burning building and his father makes to rush in after him.  He’s restrained, gives the standard “But my son’s in there!” line, and then just quits.  There’s so little to his character, though, that you almost don’t notice that he just resigned himself to his son’s death, no muss, no fuss.  Now, that burning building looks spectacular, but you can’t help get the feeling that the script was tailored around the cool visuals and weird creatures in a way that leaves a lot of things feeling flashy but unsatisfying.

That said, those weird creatures and cool visuals are all very well done.  Burton’s movies have always excelled at giving you plenty to look.  There’s eye candy galore, including a great “it’s alive!” scene, a giant turtle doing a fun Godzilla impression, and creepy little sea monkey things that run about and scare everyone.  

All in all, Frankenweenie is a good Tim Burton movie.  It’s got plenty of off-kilter characters and ideas, fantastic beasts, weird sights (Victor’s lab equipment is especially fun), and all the other quirky trimmings that Burton is so good at putting on screen.  It’s nothing phenomenal, but it’s mostly fun. 

Movies Deemed Commercially and Demographically Similar Enough to Merit Trailers Before Frankenweenie:

[Note: Was a little late, so I missed a trailer or two.]

Rise of the Guardians – A spunky kid who looks like he should be in a Final Fantasy game works with Santa and the Easter Bunny to defeat fear, or something.  Standard early holiday fare.

Oz The Great And Powerful – I’ve seen this trailer so many times now that I’m starting to hope that the movie bombs.  A trailer predicated on wonder (ooh, look at Oz!) only works so many times, y’know?  And it still doesn’t come out for five months! 

Wreck-It Ralph – This movie could be awesome, my only worry is that it thinks rapid fire video game references are all it needs.  We’ll see, though “A Restart On Life” in the trailer isn’t a good sign. 

WARNING: The comments section is a spoiler friendly zone.  By reading this with your inner monologue, you have waved any right to bitch about spoilers in perpetuity throughout the universe.

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