Sunday, October 14, 2012

October Watch: Frankenweenie (2012)

I had actually planned to go see Hotel Transylvania this weekend, but then I looked at Rottentomatoes and had second thoughts.  That movie had scored a 43%, but I noticed Frankenweenie was cruising at around 86%.

The trick is that I like Halloween movies, and Jamie will not watch anything scary.  I've had The Thing on BluRay forever, and one day she'll watch it, but that day has not yet come.  But we can do movies where all the monsters are silly, etc...  My biggest issue is that I haven't really cared much for Tim Burton's work since the golden age of Ed Wood and Mars Attacks.*  I know he has his devoted following, and good for you.  I am not to be counted among your number.

Anyone who's marginally aware of Burton's history knew he was working at Disney when he made Vincent and the original short of Frankenweenie, which, in the post-Batman brouhaha, used to be available on VHS for rent, but for some reason I never did.

This movie feels like a love letter not just to the classic monster films, but to the Tim Burton we knew that made Beetlejuice and Ed Wood, and may be Burton finding his footing again after trying his hand at adult-oriented movies like Big Fish and CGI-laden, easily-consumed stuff for popcorn audiences like Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Still, it's a kid's movie, and even at the 8:45 showing I attended, the audience had plenty of kids around.  You can't tell a boy-and-his-undead-dog story without risking a few tears, and I appreciate that the movie pushed a few buttons and felt a bit like a classic swing set with the occasionally exposed screw and some rusty parts rather than the completely liability-free cushion-zone that passes for kiddie-faire.  Nothing kids can't handle, but its a Burton world of freaks in the suburbs where the scariest thing you can face is the pressure to fit the mold.

But, really, its a monster movie in which our Victor Frankenstein loves his monster rather than running away from it.  It's got a tremendous amount of heart, and doesn't feel like the manic yuck-fest, cramming in a joke every three seconds that most animated features seem to be these days.  The gags come from the film itself, or the rich movies it's referencing, so don't expect wacky asides or any of that.

There are a tremendous number of great bits, including Victor's classmates like the weird girl who's cat tells fortunes.  And, there's a limited voice cast that manages to fill a whole small town - with great folks like Martin Short and Catherine O'Hara involved.

However, it also felt like there are a lot of threads that maybe got cut for time.  There's a bit with a goldfish that never actually resolves, there's a lot set up with a neighbor versus Victor's dog that seems like its going somewhere, but never really does.  Just a lot of little bits like that which made me wonder what happened.

Still, a good one to take the slightly older kids to.  Its not for toddlers, but its never really scary - even when things go kablooey in the final reel.  And maybe, just maybe, it'll get you to check out the classic monster movies this one references in spades.

*if you do not like Mars Attacks, you are what is wrong with America.

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