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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Frankenweenie

February 24th, 2013

Frankenweenie - Buy from Amazon: DVD, Blu-ray Combo Pack, or 3D Combo Pack

Tim Burton is one of the most stylish directors around and while admittedly he sometimes lets the style get ahead of the story, he has still made many, many wonderful movies over the years. His latest is also one of his first. Way back in 1984, he made a short film called Frankenweenie. Last year, he remade the short as a feature-length stop-motion animated film, Frankenweenie. The film struggled to find an audience, but was that because it didn't deserve an audience? Or has Tim Burton burned up too much of the good-will he generated earlier in his career.

The Movie

The movie begins with a movie, a home movie shot by Victor Frankenstein, starring Sparky, his faithful dog and his one true friend. Victor is a bit of an outcast in the town of New Holland, which is impressive, as the place seems to be populated entirely by freaks. The person who is closest to normal is Elsa Van Helsing, his new neighbor. She even has a dog, Persephone. She's staying with her uncle, Mr. Burgemeister, who is the mayor and all-round mean guy. (How he got elected mayor is beyond me.) To be fair to Victor, he's not the outcast so much as he's obsessed with science and his dog that he has little time for other people. He's perfectly normal compared to one of his fellow students, known only as Weird Girl. She gives Victor a warning. Her cat, Mr. Whiskers, had a dream about Victor last night. She knows, because in his litter box was poop in the shape of a letter V. She lives up to her moniker, even in this town. But if she's right, something big is going to happen to Victor, possibly good, possibly bad.

The class gets a new teacher, Mr. Rzykruski. (His old teacher was struck by lightening. It happens a lot in this town.) He's a bit of a freak, but he fits right in with the rest of the town. At the end of class, the teacher hands out permission slips for the science fair. Victor wants to sign up (and he's immediately approached by Edgar Gore to be a partner, but Victor politely declines). His father is worried that Victor isn't spending enough time with other kids, so he proposes a compromise. He will sign the permission slip for the science fair, if Victor signs up for Baseball. It turns out Mr. Whiskers was right, something big was going to happen to Victor. At his first at bat, he smashes the ball out of the park for a home run. ... Which Sparky chases into the street only to be hit by a car.

Soon after, Mr. Rzykruski performs an experiment in class showing that the muscles react to electricity, even after the body is dead. This gives Victor an idea. He will reanimate Sparky. The experiment works. Of course it does, otherwise there would be no movie. Victor does realize some people might not understand what he did, so he hides Sparky. This lasts all of 30 seconds before Sparky gets out and starts chasing Mr. Whiskers. He eventually finds his way to the school where he's spotted by Edgar. Edgar blackmails Victor into telling him his secret, this time they revive a dead goldfish. It works, but something goes wrong and it comes back... invisible.

Edgar promises not to tell anyone, which is a promise he breaks in about 30 seconds. He tells Toshiaki and Bob (and later Nassor, although by that time the invisible fish disappeared for good). The first two decide they need to up their game if they are to win the science fair. They decide to make a rocket... and strap it onto Bob and have him fly off the roof. Needless to say, this doesn't work and Bob is injured. Bob's Mother blames Mr. Rzykruski for filling her son's head with science. Mr. Rzykruski does get a chance to defend himself before the town, and does so by calling everyone there ignorant and scared of science. In his defense, they are ignorant. Even so, he's fired.

The science fair is still on, and with Edgar's invisible fish, Toshiaki, Bob, and Nassor are convinced they won't win. But when they realize it was Victor who reanimated the fish, they, and Weird Girl who decided to tag along, go into Victor's lab while he is not there and discover his secrets. Soon the entire class knows and they are trying to revive all of their dead pets, but each of their experiments goes wrong in different ways.

We already have a Frankenstein monster, as well as the Invisible Man, so you can probably guess the rest of pets will turn into other classic movie monsters, but I won't spoil which ones.

This is how you make a kids movie. Frankenweenie was clearly made for adults, as most of the classic movie references will go over the heads of the kids in the audience. The best kids movies are those made for adults that kids can enjoy as well. Bad kids movies tend to be the ones that are made for kids, because too many filmmakers think kids are idiots, so they need to dumb down their entertainment. This film remains a smart film that will appeal to adults just as much as kids. It has Tim Burton's sense of style to it, but with a much tighter narrative. The style complements the story and doesn't get in the way of the story, which has been a problem for some of his recent films. Frankenweenie also has a solid emotional core. There are few storylines that will tug at your heartstrings as much as a story about a boy and his dog.

If you are a fan of these classic movie monsters, especially Frankenstein, then Frankenweenie is a must see. If not, but you enjoy the energy and visual flair of Tim Burton's earlier films like Beetle Juice or Edward Scissorhands, or more recently The Corpse Bride, then it is a must see. If you are a fan of stop-motion animation in general, it is a must see. It is one of the best animated films I've seen in a while and I'm glad it picked up an Oscar nomination, although it is a long shot to win.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD include five-minute featurette on the touring exhibit for Frankenweenie, which shows off all of the little props made for the movie. There is also a music video for "Pet Sematary" by the Plain White Ts. That's not a lot of extras.

The Blu-ray and the 3D Combo Packs have a couple of short films, including the original Frankenweenie and a new Captain Sparky vs. the Flying Saucers. There is also a 23-minute long making of featurette. It's not a loaded disc, but there's enough here to not feel barren, while the quality of the individual extras are excellent.

The technical presentation is amazing. The clarity of the video is incredible with the textures in the miniatures and the props visible throughout the film. There is also great contrast with very inky blacks, which is of the utmost importance for a film like this. It goes without saying that there are no compression artifacts or digital noise to deal with. Overall it is reference level quality. The audio is likewise great with the 7.1 audio track using all speakers effectively. There's lots of ambient sounds and the bass gets a workout when needed. It's not quite as good as the video is, but still impressive.

The 3D is well done with a lot of added depth to the film, but not a lot of scenes where things jump out of the screen. Granted, the former is more important that the latter, but the latter is fun, if it is not overused. The video quality doesn't suffer in 3D, which is good news as well.

The 3D Combo Pack is $35, or about $10 more than the Blu-ray combo pack. That's a little on the high side, but not a ridiculous amount to pay.

The Verdict

Frankenweenie is a must have, but if you are only interested in renting, then the DVD is your best bet. If you plan to buy, the 3D Combo Pack is a little pricey, but still worth the extra money to get over the Blu-ray Combo Pack.

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Filed under: Video Review, Frankenweenie, Tim Burton, Conchata Ferrell, Martin Landau, Catherine O'Hara, Winona Ryder, Martin Short, Charlie Tahan, Frank Welker, Robert Capron, Atticus Shaffer, James Hiroyuki Liao