Thursday, October 18, 2012

Frankenweenie 3D (Rhoades)

Comes Alive in Time
For Halloween

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Years ago I had a running joke with my friends that I had created a Dead Pet Club. To belong, you needed to have a dead pet (my cat had recently died). If you didn’t have a dead pet, I’d tell them, you can buy one cheap at the pet shop.
I extolled the virtues of having a dead pet: They follow commands like “Stay!” and “Play dead!” They don’t have to be walked. And you don’t need to buy a lot of pet food.
Sick humor? Yes, but a way of dealing with my cat’s demise.
Director Tim Burton has a dead pet too. Well, more specifically, he has a movie about one, a remake of a short animated film he did back in 1984.
Called “Frankenweenie,” it’s like a kid’s version of that old “Frankenstein” movie. Shot in somber black-and-white, it tells the story of young Victor who uses his science-class skills to bring his beloved pooch Sparky back to life after he’s hit by a speeding car.
Uh-oh. You just can’t expect a stitched-together electrified weenie dog (a bull terrier, I think) to be quite the same after that kind of jumpstart. And, needless to say, the neighbors are not amused by this bolt-through-the-neck monster dog.
Back when Burton made that first “Frankenweenie” film, he was paying his dues as an animator at the Disney Studios. Ironically, Disney fired him after the film was completed claiming he’d wasted company resources on the project and that it was too scary for young audiences. Thus, the 29-minute film was shelved, never to be released theatrically in the US.
(Psst! – I still have a bootleg VHS tape of the original “Frankenweenie.”)
Now, 28 years later, Tim Burton has remade that long-lost short, turning it into an 87-minute feature film. Still in grisly black-and-white. And the characters look pretty much the same. But we have new voice stars and the story has been (forgive the term) fleshed out. Plus it’s in 3D.
Daniel Stern and Shelly Duvall lent their voices as Mr. and Mrs. Frankenstein in that first film. This time around we hear the voices of Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara. You will remember Short from Saturday Night Live and such silly movies like “Clifford” and “Three Amigos.” And O’Hara is an alumna of Second City TV, but best remembered as the forgetful mom in “Home Alone” as well as spots in all those Christopher Guest farces.
Charlie Tahan provides the voice for their son Victor, the precocious kid who refuses to say goodbye to his pet. You may remember Charlie from “Nights in Rodanthe,” “Charlie McCloud,” or the “Blue Bloods” TV series.
Winona Rider does the voice of the little girl next door. Atticus Shaffer is E-Gore, a takeoff on the old hunchbacked Igor character. And doing a thick Eastern European accent, Martin Landau is great as the science teacher who encourages young Victor to try this wayward science experiment.
The stop-motion animation process took two years. That’s with more than 30 different animators working simultaneously with 200 puppets to film different scenes at the same time. Swiss watchmakers helped assemble the intricate mechanisms that allow the puppets to be positioned in (ahem) lifelike ways. The dog alone had over 300 moving parts.
“Frankenweenie” is currently showing at the Tropic Cinema. If you’re a fan of Burton’s other two stop-motion treats, “Corpse Bride” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” you’ll love this spooky little movie too.
Now, guess which studio is releasing this remake?
Yep, Disney – the same company that fired Burton for making the first film.

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