When I was invited to a pre-release screening of Tim Burton’s new film, “Frankenweenie,” I, well, frankly, almost said no. Nothing about the previews really appealed to me. And I’m hot and cold on Tim Burton. I adore the quirky charm of “Edward Scissorhands,” “Beetlejuice,” and yes, even his version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
I can’t decide if I like his “Alice in Wonderland” and I’ve never seen, nor had much desire to see, “Corpse Bride” or “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” But how crazy cool is he?
I was upset that my favorite part of most Burton films — Johnny Depp — wasn’t in “Frankenweenie,” so I wasn’t too excited about going. But I have a child who is a sucker for marketing (I’m looking at you, Subway, and your Frankenweenie bags), and she’d already started the campaign to go see it.
I (begrudgingly) RSVPed to the screening and now I owe my child a big thank you.
I was absolutely charmed by “Frankenweenie.”
Here’s a brief synopsis of the movie, from Disney Pictures:
From creative genius Tim Burton (“Alice in Wonderland,” The Nightmare Before Christmas”) comes “Frankenweenie,” a heartwarming tale about a boy and his dog. After unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky, young Victor harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life—with just a few minor adjustments. He tries to hide his home-sewn creation, but when Sparky gets out, Victor’s fellow students, teachers and the entire town all learn that getting a new “leash on life” can be monstrous.
Anyone who has ever loved a dog (or I suppose a cat, too, but that’s a whole other story) passionately will certainly relate to the story. And I hate that I have to be surprised by this in children’s films, but it’s another all-too-rare example (like “Brave”) with a great and loving family unit.
It also didn’t hurt that the fabulous Catherine O’Hara (aka Cookie Fleck in “Best in Show”) provides the voice talents for several characters in the movie. I adore her to no end.
Hands down, though, my favorite character in “Frankenweenie” is the new, slightly scary science teacher Mr. Rzykruski, voiced by the amazing Martin Landau.
His science lectures, particularly his impassioned defense of science to a roomful of skeptical and small-minded parents, are genius. I wish I’d had a science teacher like him growing up. Perhaps I would have enjoyed it more, rather than just wishing I was in English, history or social studies instead. Just watch this scene and you’ll see what I mean.
I mean, c’mon. How great is that?
This movie also made me wish I knew more about horror film classics, such as “Frankenstein,” “Bride of Frankenstein,” and “Godzilla.” There are loads of references and homages to the great films of the past in here. Even without having seen them, I still picked up on most of the references (at least I think I did! I know there’s a lot I missed), so I’m sure you will, too.
OK, now to the scare factor. I saw this movie with my 4 1/2-year-old daughter, and she did not get scared once. I will say that we are not the strictest parents when it comes to her viewing habits. For example, she’s seen all of the Star Wars movies and yes, Jumanji (which scared me more than her).
The last 30 minutes of the movie does include some intense parts (we’re talking about bringing pets back from the dead and them turning bad). Plus, if you’ve never had a serious death conversation with your child, you may want to first. No humans die, and Sparky’s death is not shown on camera but his death and what death means is heavily discussed.
Even when it’s scary, though, there is a lot of humor. A lot. In a way, it’s campy scary (think old-time horror movies). I would think that kids from 6 and up would have no issues with it, but know your child. If they’re likely to be scared, then you may want to take a pass or wait for it to come out on DVD so you can watch it at home together and hit stop/FF as needed.
For what it’s worth, the screening I was in had several children E’s age (and some even younger) and I didn’t hear one kid start crying during it.
If you want to give your child an appreciation for an artful form of animation (the stop-motion is so cool to watch in “Frankenweenie”) as well as the rich history of Hollywood horror films, this is a great place to start. It’s the perfect amount of spooky for the Halloween season with so much heart and humor to balance the “scary.” DadJovi wasn’t able to go with us, so I know we’ll be returning to see it at least one more time (on our dime this time) before it leaves theaters.
Besides, your life won’t be complete until you meet the bizarre Mr. Whiskers, the psychic kitty, and his owner, Weird Girl (another character voiced by Catherine O’Hara).
That strange cat is the only cat I’d ever consider getting.
Disclosure: I was invited to attend a pre-release free press screening of “Frankenweenie.” All images above are courtesy of and copyrighted to Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures. And as the saying goes, all opinions are mine.
What is your favorite horror movie? What’s your favorite Tim Burton film? And don’t you think it should be illegal for him to do a picture without both Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter?!?