Photo Credit: Disney Enterprises
It's a tale about a boy and his dog -- but Frankenweenie is no Lassie. (Hello, it's a Tim Burton film -- and just in time for Halloween!) Is your kid old enough to see this one? Check out our review from Common Sense Media to find out!
Rating: Ages 9 and up
What parents need to know. Parents need to know that Tim Burton's black-and-white, stop-motion animated film Frankenweenie is the feature-length version of a short he made early in his career. Like most of Burton's films, Frankenweenie's tone is dark and creepy and will likely scare kids who are sensitive to the macabre. On the other hand, this tale of a very young Frankenstein who reanimates his beloved pet dog is a great introduction to the horror genre for older kids and tweens who are ready for some scares -- like when a group of kids reanimates various pets that go wild (one ends up as big as Godzilla) and terrorize the town. Pets die in the movie, and the resulting grief is depicted realistically.
What's the story? Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) isn't a popular kid; his best friend is his pet dog, Sparky (Frank Welker). The only positive thing at school -- where Victor has no pals -- is his new science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau), who explains how lightning and electricity can be harnessed and assigns all the kids a science project. After Sparky is accidentally run over during a baseball game, Victor is despondent ... until he decides to experiment on Sparky's corpse during a thunderstorm. But reanimating Sparky comes with its own set of problems, most notably Victor's classmates, who want to learn his secret and try it on their own dead pets.
Is it any good? Frankenweenie was originally a black-and-white short film that Tim Burton directed and released in 1984, and turning it into a feature-length movie was obviously a labor of love for the director. Both an homage to classic monster movies and a tender relationship drama about the love between a boy and his dog, this is a film that works on so many levels. For kids and tweens, there's the basic story of a boy who will stop at nothing to get back his best friend; for young scary-movie buffs and adults, there are countless references to the horror genre that are seamlessly woven into the story.
What's brilliant about Burton is the emotional range his movies portray. Frankenweenie is undoubtedly frightening in parts -- particularly when the resurrected animals are unleashed onto the town festival -- but there's so much humor (a dead pet named "Colussus" turns out to be anything but) and tenderness as well. The tears that young Victor spills over Sparky are genuinely heartfelt, and, for once, Frankenstein doesn't seem like a mad genius -- just a young boy who misses his favorite creature in the world.
What families can talk about:
--Families can talk about Frankenweenie's scare factor. Are the frightening scenes too much for little kids, or are they funnier than they are scary? Who do you think they're intended to appeal to?
--Do you think kids will get the movie's references to horror movie characters? Why do you think Tim Burton's signature style is so dark?
--Would the movie have the same impact if Sparky was a different kind of pet? What's the appeal of dog movies?