If you go
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Run time: 87 minutes
Starring the voices of: Charlie Tahan, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short and Martin Landau
Playing now at Wildhorse Stadium Cinemas
Steamboat Springs Things don’t always go the way we’d like, even when you have the best intentions at heart. In a pleasant case of life imitating art, “Frankenweenie” shows what can happen when you get a do-over.
It’s been a long time coming for this expanded version of the 1984 short film that famously got Tim Burton axed from the staff at Disney, but it looks like he’s had the last laugh. All the elements of the original, live-action delight are present, from young Victor Frankenstein’s promising homemade feature starring his favorite quadruped to the illustrious windmill finale taken from the very first “Frankenstein” movie more than 80 years ago.
Man’s best friend is his dog. In the case of Victor (voice of Charlie Tahan), his canine companion is his only friend.
Naturally, the boy is devastated when the pup is killed in an accident, and no amount of consolation from his parents (Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short) seems to help.
Taking inspiration from his science teacher’s (Martin Landau) many lectures about the wonders of electrical current, Victor rigs up his own experiment to harness the power of lightning and resurrect his dog’s exhumed body. The procedure works with flying colors, but even though Victor may be overjoyed to have his pooch among the land of the living, he knows that few people in his small, conservative town will be able to accept such an affront to nature.
Tahan is cast perfectly as the voice behind the sensitive, introverted kid who doubles as an amateur filmmaker and a borderline brilliant scientist. Come on, you have to give it up for a young inventor who’s able to create a masterwork of electrical engineering.
And you can’t say it wasn’t worth the trouble, with a postmortem Sparky just as frisky as ever, even if he needs to wear bolts in his neck and his tail flops off whenever he wags it too heartily.
O’Hara and Short are functional as the Franken-folks, but they do even better as a couple of provincial, dog-hating members of the community and better still as two of Victor’s many kooky classmates: O’Hara as a lass known only as Weird Girl, who blinks as much as an oil painting and seeks prophecies of doom in the cat box; and Short as Nassor, a lanky, lisping sort who looks suspiciously like a child version of monster actor Boris Karloff.
Landau is a hoot as the teacher with the unintelligible name who unintentionally instills in his students a sick need to cheat death, while Winona Ryder is a nice addition as probably the only normal kid in this class, pigtail-wearing Elsa — though her only real function is as the owner of Sparky’s paramour, a prissy poodle named Persephone. Ah, puppy love.
In stop-motion animated form, the black and white presentation is a bit of a gamble but a worthy one to be sure, to attract not only film buffs who will appreciate the look of the old Universal horror lineup but also those who know Burton’s visions are at their best when they’re shown in a monochromatic style, or at least close to it.
And rather than repeating the storyline of his original work, Burton lets writer John August pad out the story so Sparky isn’t the only denizen of the pet cemetery who comes back to his owner with terrifically frightful outcomes.
What’s really horrifying, though, is the thought that anybody would devote an entire mausoleum to a hamster.
“Frankenweenie” presents the side of the director we haven’t seen in a good, long while: that of the uncompromising, young-at-heart dreamer who swims against the current, all conveniently embodied within Victor, whose whole life plays like a re-enactment of Burton’s childhood. There’s no way of telling if all the people he knew when he was a kid were either skeletally thin or gelatinously obese, as all these animated characters are, but it’s clear this tale of a boy and his dog is from the heart.
If it doesn’t move you, maybe you should check your pulse and hook yourself up to receive a few thousand volts.
Andy Bockelman is a Craig resident, freelance writer and Denver Film Critics Society accredited film fanatic who occasionally reviews movies playing in Steamboat Springs.