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Release Date(s)2012 (January 08, 2013)
Studio(s)Buena Vista Home Entertainment
When I heard that Tim Burton was going to produce a big-screen adaptation of his classic short film Frankenweenie, I was only mildly excited. It's a good enough idea, and one that I'm surprised hadn't come to fruition already, but I still had my doubts. I've gone round and round in my mind about Tim Burton over the last decade or so. He generally tends to make mass-appeal product with his usual stylistic stamp on it without really taking the time to do something incredibly different creatively (Big Fish being the exception, of course). I really enjoy his early films, and I'm certainly an enormous fan of Ed Wood, but outside of that, a lot of his work just isn't very good to me. It's very disposable. So it's with an open mind and an open heart that I give myself over to his latest film, Frankenweenie.
The good news is that Frankenweenie is not a terrible audience-friendly product like I imagined it to be. Given what he's done with this kind of material in the past, who could blame me? The fact that it doesn't have any musical numbers in it is a plus right off the bat, and it's also pretty faithful to its source material. The stop-motion animation is fantastic, as one would expect, and the voice performances are pretty good. The really troublesome details crop up in the second half of the film, which is where the expansion of the story takes place from the original short film. The added subplot involving other students from Victor's school stumbling onto his discovery of being able to bring the dead back to life and exploiting it to revive their own dead pets really serves no purpose in the overall scheme of things. Sure it serves a small function in the climax, and it's built up early on, but from a story perspective, it feels like filler, and it doesn't really involve our two main characters.
I also find it odd that all of the characters in this universe look like they came out of The Nightmare Before Christmas or Corpse Bride, particularly the Igor-like young kid named E. Gore who spills the beans about Victor's discovery to the other kids. They all seem like caricatures rather than characters to me. They serve their purpose in the story, for the most part, but their look doesn't function well in a story about a young boy and his dog in the middle of 1950's suburbia. They're exaggerated physically to such a degree that it makes me wonder if it was an intentional move on the filmmakers' part to play into the overall Frankenstein theme, which is that the real monsters are the townspeople. I kind of doubt that though. I think it's just what Tim Burton likes, so you either have to go with it or not. It works in a fantasy setting, like in the previously mentioned Burton-produced stop-motion films, but when set in a world of an idealized reality, it doesn't work as well. Despite my feelings about the look and the story mechanics, I still got choked up during the film. It's a universal feeling though, of losing someone and not being able to understand or accept it, especially when it's an animal. So I wouldn't call the film a total loss. It certainly has some great things about it. It's also definitely dipping back into the well for Burton though, from a time when he was one of the up and coming filmmakers of his generation. Unfortunately, at some point he decided that he was comfortable with a particular style, particular actors and a particular brand of storytelling. It's a shame too, because there's real talent in there. Frankenweenie represents, at least to me, a young Tim Burton through older Tim Burton's eyes. It's not perfect, but there are hints of a real storyteller inside a story that was already fine the way it was.
Frankenweenie comes to Blu-ray in three formats: Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD. Since I'm not prepared to comment on the 3D presentation (due to my lack of seeing it in theaters AND not being able to the view the format at home), let's take a look at the Blu-ray and DVD. I can say this without uncertainty: this film's hi def presentation is a knockout. The depth of the image is superb, with many deep, dark shadows transposed against lighter objects with amazing clarity and detail. Every last bump, line or ruffle in each of the puppets can be seen in all their glory. Contrast is excellent and there doesn't appear to be any signs of digital tampering to ramp up the picture's look either. Sufficed to say, this is a reference quality high definition presentation. The audio is equally impressive, with four options: English 7.1 DTS-HD, English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital, French 7.1 DTS-HD and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital. It's an amazing soundtrack, with enough life in it to be almost ironic given the subject matter. Thunder roars, lightning crashes, score swells and, best of all, dialogue is crisp and clear, and on an even playing field with the rest of the soundtrack. There are plenty of bass-heavy and rear channel activity moments to give your surround system a workout, as well as plenty of ambient low level moments to immerse you. All-encompassing and enveloping, this is definitely one soundtrack you'll want to impress your friends with, not to mention entertain your family with. There are also subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish for those who might need them.
The extras that have been included are sparse and mostly run of the mill. First up is the new short film Captain Sparky vs. the Flying Saucers, the original Frankenweenie short that the film is based off of, the Miniatures in Motion: Bringing Frankenweenie to Life featurette, the Frankenweenie Touring Exhibit featurette and the Plain White T's Pet Sematary Music Video. The DVD features only the latter two extras, as well as soundtracks in English, French and Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and English DVS 2.0 Dolby Digital, plus the subtitles. There are also plenty of previews of upcoming projects from Disney that open each disc. It's nice to have the original short film in high definition, and it's also good to have some behind-the-scenes footage of the actual creation of the film, but I thought they could have gone a bit deeper into the process. Maybe discuss the adapting and writing process, speak with the actors voicing the characters, or even get into the editing process. It seems to scratch the surface without really getting into the juicy bits, which is why I have a feeling that we'll see a more extras-heavy edition of the film later on down the road. It's certainly worthy enough of it.
As far as family films go, Frankenweenie isn't offensive to me like some of the more recent films in Tim Burton's body of work. I'm not going to mention names, but I'm sure you know which ones I'm talking about. The film tries to be a fun homage to monster movies of the past while at the same time telling a nice story about a boy and his dog. It may not be the most ironed-out story, or the most well-adapted piece of material out there, but it does have its charm, stemming mostly from the stop-motion process. I'd recommend it for that aspect alone.
- Tim Salmons