DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

Frankenweenie, Blu-ray 3D 4-disc combo pack (2013)

Great fun in 3D for both kids and their parents, with lots of retro bits aping the Universal horror classics of the 1930s.

Published on January 16, 2013

Frankenweenie, Blu-ray 3D 4-disc combo pack (2013)

Director: Tim Burton
Voices: Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Landau, Winona Rider
Music: Danny Elfman
Studio: Disney Buena Vista 106865 [1/8/13]
Video: 1.85:1 for 16:9 3D display, 1080p HD Black & White
Audio: English DTS-HD MA, French & Spanish DD 5.1
Subtitles: English, English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Original live-action short (30’) with Sissy Spacek, Victor’s home movie short “Captain Sparky vs. The Flying Saucers,” Documentary: “Miniatures in Motion: Bringing Frankenweenie to Life,” Frankenweenie Touring Exhibit, “Pet Semetary” Music Video, Digital copy of feature on separate DVD, 3D or 2D, Previews
Length: 87 min.
Rating: *****

It may seem that Burton’s over-the-top creepy stuff would be too much for the little ones, but reports are that they love it, and this is a terrific family film—especially in 3D. It is a feature length extension of a short that Burton did both as live action and as animation in the past, when he was just starting out. The short and the feature both re-visit the 1930s Universal horror pictures and are full of references and a retro look that should please the adults while the kids are enjoying the rest of it.

The longer and animated version is a kick. Some elements of the original are expanded. The other animated short opens the feature, and is made to look like a silent home movie made by Victor starring his dog Sparky. Of course when Victor brings Sparky, who gets run over, back to life the whole thing replicates much of the original Frankenstein classic movie, but at a kid’s level. The role of Victor’s Russian science teacher is new to the story; he stimulates Victor to do his “experiment” for the Science Fair after demonstrating how applying electricity to the legs of a dead frog makes them jump.  The teacher (a Vincent Price parody) is played by Martin Landau, who did Bela Lugosi in the Ed Wood film of Burton’s. All of the characters are highly stylized and most have very small mouths. One of the extras shows the unusually large sets and figurines they used in the tedious stop-motion work—I believe they mentioned to a 3.5 scale—whatever that means. They feel lucky to achieve two seconds of stop-motion animation in one work day. In fact the articulated figures (that have to be moved a tiny bit, and one or two frames shot, before slightly moving yet again) are around a foot tall. Probably as a result of the larger scale, the 3D effects are terrific, with often houses and people some distance away having the proper depth to them.

Danny Elfman’s score is perfect for the film, and in spite of Burton’s creepy edginess, the film also has a lot of heart. The size required for Sparky dictated the scale of everything else, and the dog is a delight—with all the very natural motions and activities one expects of an active dog—whether crudely sewn together or not. One of the hilarious bits for me was the romance between Sparky and the neighbor girl’s French poodle. When they finally make nose contact thru the fence, a big electrical charge knocks the poodle flat, and when she gets up she has a hairdo with a vertical white streak thru it just like Elsa Lancaster in The Bride of Frankenstein.

The expanded material about Victor’s classmates finding out what he has done and trying to bring various dead things back to life with electricity is also fun. The Japanese kid chooses to do a dead turtle, but the little shell is transformed into a turtle version of Godzilla, who threatens the whole community. The girl with the eventually-threatening cat who shows Victor that her cat foretells the future with its poo is also pretty funny.

—John Sunier




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