★★★ / ★★★★
Growing up, I had a strange relationship with animals. While my neighbors and cousins that lived within the area kept typical household pets like dogs and cats, I searched every nook and cranny of the house for spiders, plucked caterpillars off our calamondin tree, and chased dragonflies in an ice plant’s giant lawn which was conveniently situated in front of my parents’ house. (My favorite specimen were hissing beetles but they weren’t always in season.) With the help of an anatomy book that I rescued from garbage collectors during my seventh birthday, I performed “experiments” on these bugs, often carefully controlled (or so I thought) but at times a bit gruesome. I was a very curious kid and this was the reason I related immediately to Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) even before his dog, Sparky, ran across the street to fetch a ball and got ran over on his way back. Unable to move on from the death of his only friend, Victor decided to dig up Sparky’s body from the cemetery and bring it back to life. “Frankenweenie,” directed by Tim Burton, was beautifully photographed in black and white which made the experience similar to looking inside a memory or a dream. I loved examining every character’s facial features and body type because each of them was unique. Take, for example, Victor’s classmate who was obsessed with psychic predictions (Catherine O’Hara) made by her cat. Her eyes were gargantuan flying saucers, as if they were in a permanent state of shock, and just underneath them were wrinkles that suggested she probably didn’t sleep much. Another one I couldn’t help but stare at was the lanky and flat-headed Nasser (Martin Short), his look inspired by Frankenstein’s monster. But unlike the image that inspired his look, Nasser was very much alive and would do absolutely anything to win the science fair. Equally interesting were the camera angles utilized to tell the story. In its default state, the camera seemed to be just below eye level, only moving drastically above or below it if something important was about to happen or was already happening. An angle classically used in horror films, I was surprised that it still worked even though genuinely scary scenes were scarce. It kept my curiosity intact especially when Victor had to find ways to hide his recently resurrected dog from his parents (O’Hara, Short) and classmates. We knew that people would have to find out about Victor’s secret sooner or later but that knowledge did not get in the way of the tender interactions between a boy and his dog. Unfortunately, two characters were not developed to their full potential: Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau), the eccentric substitute science teacher, and Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder), the girl who lived next door. The scenes set in the classroom were very funny. Mr. Rzykruski was so passionate about science that at times he came off as very intimidating. The lesson he had to impart about science, how it can be used for good and bad depending on the variables, was perfectly delivered by Landau and I believe that his words of wisdom will speak to children who have an interest in the subject. On the other hand, Elsa’s appearances were quite random. Other than the fact that her dog and Sparky shared a special connection, it wasn’t quite clear why she was necessary. However, I took comfort in the fact that the screenplay by John August avoided the cheap and easy way out by making her as Victor’s object of desire. “Frankenweenie,” paying homage to the simple storytelling and look of classic monster movies, was still a buffet of fun. If it had been longer by giving more time for its more important supporting characters to develop, it would have felt like a more complete experience.