The town in Frankenweenie is New Holland and it must be Tim Burton’s dream of what a town should be. There is a large windmill hovering on the edge of town, an abnormally spacious pet cemetery, and most of the school kids are various shades of macabre characters from horror literature and films. Even the town’s weather is foreboding as there is a nightly thunderstorm accompanied by frequent lightning strikes. The electrons flying through the clouds in New Holland are always on the lookout for the perfect location to strike.
Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) would be an odd child in a normal town with run of the mill kids, but in New Holland, Victor is not that much different from his peers, although he is much more adept at practical science activities than they are. The new science teacher, who has the best name of a science teacher ever, Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau), is an homage to Vincent Price and has the longest upper lip in the history of cinema, live action or stop-motion animation. Victor’s classmates include the Igor knock-off, Edgar ‘E’ Gore (voiced by Atticus Shaffer), Elsa Van Helsing (voiced by Winona Ryder), an Asian kid named Toshiaki (voiced by James Hiroyuki Liao), and the Mummy knock-off, Nassor (voiced by Martin Short).
Sparky is Victor’s faithful dog. He is the star of Victor’s amateur 8mm short films, sleeps by his bed at night, and may be Victor’s only friend. After an accident sends Sparky to the pet cemetery, Victor is inconsolable until he sees the science teacher reanimate a dead frog’s legs with electricity. Luckily, Victor has an enormous attic full of all the strange apparatus’s it would require to hook up and hoist recently departed Sparky out of the the skylight during a thunderstorm. You are not far off if it reminds you of “Edward Scissorhands.” It works! Sparky is back; however, looking at Sparky is not very appealing and I cannot imagine really young movie-goers will appreciate his appearance either. His skin, tail, and ears resemble a patch-work quilt with hideous stitch marks throughout and bolts sticking out of his neck. Victor has Sparky back but perhaps keeping the whole thing under wraps will be more difficult than bringing the dog back to life.
The school kids are all competing to win the science fair and the competition is fierce. Instead of following in his ancestor’s ways and being a loyal and adept aide, this ‘E’ Gore is underhanded, conniving, and has a mouth which blabs far too much for a kid who seems to only have three teeth. Pretty soon, Victor’s reanimation facility is not the only game in town. There is Shelley the turtle (love the pun on the name), Mr. Whiskers the cat, and something called Colossus which are all about to start causing trouble in New Holland. Frankenweenie is not the most creative Tim Burton film out there, but if it makes a new generation want to seek out the original Frankenstein, Dracula, and Mummy, then it will serve its purpose.
Tim Burton directed Frankenweenie but he did not write the script (that honor goes to John August). Perhaps if he did write it, more scenes in the classroom with the science teacher would have been included instead of the onslaught of science fair experiment treachery. And perhaps, Winona Ryder’s character Elsa Van Helsing, who is far too underused would have played a more prominent role — she is a supporting character who could have really given this story a needed jolt.
Despite its kid-friendly previews, I would not take the youngest of the young to the theater for this one. There are enough knowing side gags for the adults and creepy crawly humor for the 3rd graders, but younger than that it’s probably not their cup of tea. The story is a bit forgettable but the wink-wink praise for its horror ancestors makes Frankenweenie a worthy trip nonetheless.