Young science prodigy Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan: Blue Bloods) has one friend in the world: his faithful pup Sparky. They spend their days together making movies, hanging out in Victor’s attic workshop and playing ball in the yard.
Victor is content, but his parents worry that he doesn’t have any human friends. They want Victor to befriend bipedal creatures, maybe even take up a sport. Their worst fears come true when Sparky is run down by a car and Victor falls into deep depression.
Luckily for Victor, he has science to comfort him. Inspired by an experiment in class that temporarily reanimates a dead frog, Victor adapts the technique to reanimate Sparky. A few bolts of lightning and a lot of stitches later, Victor and Sparky are reunited.
Now that he’s defied the laws of science, and quite possibly sinned against nature, Victor is ecstatic. Sparky simply needs jumper cable recharging — like an undead iPad — and he’s good to go for hours. The only problem is keeping his family and neighbors from figuring out that a zombie dog roams among them.
This is harder than you might imagine. Soon the creepy kids in Victor’s class have learned about Sparky’s resurrection, and they demand to know Victor’s secret.
The problem is, unlike Victor, his fellow students aren’t trying to bring back their best friends. They’re simply trying to win a science fair. So instead of giving life to friendly pets, they create monsters of varying grotesqueness.
Surprisingly, the inhabitants of New Holland aren’t thrilled with the undead animal infestation. Innocent Sparky gets lumped in with the nasty beasts.
So it’s up to Victor to stop the monsters he helped create and save Sparky from torches and pitchforks.
Based on a live-action short film made in 1984 by director Tim Burton (Dark Shadows), Frankenweenie is a clear reflection of the tight, twisted storytelling that made him an auteur. In the years since, Burton’s distinctive Hot Topic style has endured, but his storytelling skills have waned. Frankenweenie is a promising return to form for the filmmaker and is easily his best film in over 10 years. See what happens when he takes a break from Johnny Depp?
Character design is the real star of the film, with each person reminiscent of a horror legend. The wide eyes, grey flesh and spider-like limbs that are Burton’s signature style might frighten kids used to Disney animation. While kids might thrill at the exaggerated features of the inhabitants of New Holland, film-savvy adults will smile at obvious tributes to Vincent Price, Boris Karloff, Peter Lorre and more.
In spite of its creepy exterior, Frankenweenie has a positive message about the power of science and love. Still, it might be a good idea to hide the jumper cables from your kids when the family pet isn’t feeling well.