Sunday, October 21, 2012

Frankenweenie (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway


Now here's an animated film that puts the "Boo" in boo-tiful, that is more paranormal than "ParaNorman" and more Evilicious than Elvira. I'm speaking of course, of the much anticipated "Frankenweenie" playing now at The Tropic. This rollicking grue-fest will satisfy the junior Goth in all of us. It is unapologetically joyful, cute in its creature features, and masterfully affectionate.

Director Tim Burton seldom disappoints and here he has crafted a winner. The jokes and jests, although aimed at the tiny tots and the Halloween Tweens among us never panders or talks down to its audience and actually has some genuine suspenseful moments, harkening back to the black and white bedrock of the old Universal horror classics from the 1930s and 40s.

"Frankenweenie" is a picaresque valentine to the ritual of Halloween. In theme and attitude, it is a nostalgic twin to Burton's first short film, the lyrically clever "Vincent" (1982 ) which can be viewed online. In that film, young Vincent, (modeled after Burton himself) is obsessed with Poe and actor Vincent Price. "Vincent" pays homage to the German Expressionist films "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" by Robert Wiene and F.W. Marnau's "Nosferatu" with all its stark shadows and jagged cubist lines. 

In "Frankenweenie", Burton lampoons the 1950s sensibility (his personal trademark) and his own films, specifically "Edward Scissorhands".
We are, as usual, deep in a bright gray suburbia. This is Burton's favorite landscape where everything Gorey goes pop. 

In his latest outing we have a little Victor, (as in Frankenstein) voiced by Charlie Tahan, who is obsessed by movies and electricity. Victor's mom and dad, voiced by Catherine O' Hara and Martin Short respectively, are conveniently out of touch with their gray-eyed and galvanic son. During a game, Victor's dog Sparky, an adorably anemic dachshund, gets hit by a black-finned chrome car. 

Alas, weakness and woe, very rightly so, ensues.

Inspired by his science teacher, a Mr. Rzykruski,  (voiced by Martin Landau, and having a long chin reminiscent of both Bela Lugosi and Vincent Price) Victor begins reanimation. Rzykruski is later called to the carpet for causing trouble. He brings  the message of  science as a springboard to the imagination and by extension, monsters and magic. 

This idea of imagination and open-mindedness is central to almost every Burton film.
The visual dance of  "Frankenweenie" is a delight. It is a tour de farce of early horror and  everything sent up from "Gremlins" to "Poltergeist". There is an "Igor," the annoying Edgar who resembles Peter Lorre. There is an ambitious Asian student who inadvertently makes the first Godzilla film from a mutant turtle and there is also a kid who involuntarily mimics Boris Karloff. 

Every Gary Larsonesque ("The Far Side") moment is intentional, filled with a personal significance and not a bit of film is superfluous.

Many of us are familiar with Burton's filmic cues: pale, big-eyed children in split level houses who moonlight with movie monsters or white washed Hollywood directors who live to bring a sinister schmaltz to a Transvestite Tinseltown, and every hemoglobin-challenged hero looks like (or actually is) Johnny Depp.

This territory has been spooked many times over, that's true. But Burton is so exuberant and meticulous here that all his self reverent shocks of black hair and silliness is like seeing an old fiend. And in an age where much of today's 3D animation looks bubbly and innocuous, with many of the self-same punch lines about Reality TV and smartphones, Tim Burton's Fall of the Split-Level House of Usher with all of its repetitive  references to a Suburban Dreary and a bygone Hollywood, is forever refreshing and even against the cinematic status quo.

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