Your Dog Is Alive!: Frankenweenie (2012)

As I get closer to compiling the ever important best films of last year list (at least in my head I have blown it to such proportions) I considered creating a tie at number ten for Django Unchained and Moonrise Kingdom, two solid films by well-established directors that were not their greatest work, but managed to prove quite decent...and then I saw Frankenweenie.  Now I am quite aware that Tim Burton is tied to Dark Shadows, for which I have not seen, but have, nonetheless heard to be quite bad.  I say that this changed my opinion of Django Unchained and Moonrise Kingdom only because while those films were good they failed to depict either Tarantino or Anderson taking any serious leaps as directors.  What viewers are provided with in regards to Frankenweenie is a film in which a director has clearly chosen to create something fresh, new and has certainly attempted to expand artistically.  Frankenweenie is, of course, a visual masterpiece, something that is often assumed with the work of Burton and its clear homage to the classic era of monster movies is much welcomed by myself and from what I have been able to glean, pretty much anyone else either old enough or film literate enough to appreciate the references.  However, the visual elements are only a minor factor in the larger magic of Burton's pseudo-remake of a short film from earlier in his career.  It is much more than the story of attempting to reattain a dead animal and becomes a deeply sobering consideration of the larger concept of loss, as well as a fitting comfortably within a world of ill-fitting conformities.  The film demands that viewers consider their own implications within a society of oppression and condemnation for anything even remotely unconventional, while also challenging the notion that to question anything is to inherently desire an undermining of systematic order.  Also, the very adult nature of the images, as well as the themes, makes one consider its category as a Disney film, particularly an animated one at that.  In fact, if it were not for the existence of The Straight Story within their production collection, I would outright call this the biggest surprise in regards to Disney films to date.

Frankenweenie focuses on the aptly named young Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) whose desire to make homemade sic-fi movies on his low budget camera that star his dog Sparky seems to be more than enough to make his life happy, even though is parents seem somewhat concerned about his rather introverted lifestyle.  Victor lives within the town of New Holland which is overseen by the rather cantankerous and fear-mongering Mr. Burgemeister (Martin Short) whose hopes for New Holland being a land of ideal living are forced upon the community as well as his niece Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder) who attempts to befriend Victor on multiple occasions.  During one of his days at school, Victor becomes fascinated with the possibility of winning his school science fair supervised by the ghastly Mr. Rzykruski, for whom Victor has taken a liking.  Victor's dad, also voiced by Martin Short, encourages his interest in the sciences, but also suggests that the young boy attempt sports as a means of making new friends and rounding himself out.  It is during his first game that Victor finds success hitting a ball out of the park, yet when Sparky chases after the ball gleefully he becomes victim to an car accident, dying on the spot.  Victor, is understandably devastated by the occurrence and takes to living as a hermit yet again, until he learns about the power of electricity to revive the muscles in a dead being.  Creating his own traditional Frankenstein experiment on Sparky, Victor is able to successfully revive his dead dog, although the bizarre nature of such an act forces him to sequester the happy pup into hiding, leading to suspicion from his classmates, parents and Elsa who desperately attempts to gain his attention.  A young boy named Edgar "E" Gore (Atticus Shaffer) learns of Victor's secret and exploits him in order to gain information for his own science project, leading to larger suspicions on the part of the youth in the community, eventually resulting in their own bizarre science experiments that, ultimately, lead to giant turtles, mutated sea monkeys and vampire cats roaming the town of New Holland, much to the frustration of Mr. Burgemeister.  Victor is required to put his scientific brain to the test in reversing all the experiments, eventually leading to an intense final climax at the towns windmill, which is now in flames and he learns a larger lesson on sacrifice from Sparky in the process.

This film is a veritable prose poem on the nature of loss both in terms of innocence and a close intimate connection.  While it does not outright say it and I have not done any researrch to verify it, I would imagine that the concept for this story came from a very personal part of Burton's soul as the means by which he depicts losing a childhood pet is quite accurate.  I never personally lost a dog, but I know the devastation of losing a cat at a very young age, something that is often a child's first experience with death.  The second element of this narrative seems to suggest a passion for refusing to give up on anything you love, even if that thing changes, sure this is evidenced in Victor's desire to bring Sparky back to live, but it also rings true in his quest for scientific truth.  As Mr. Rzykruski reminds him, no truth can occur in science without a person truly loving the experiment with which they are engaged.  The town of course is entirely opposed to this concept as they see it as a cause in one local boy being injured, although the narrative seems quite intent on suggesting it a result of some rather direct bullying.  Victor's parents are certainly loving towards the troubled youth, but even their liberal and progressive mindset proves challenged when they are asked to not only go against an entire anti-science community, but also accept that their son has brought an inanimate object back to life and expects it to be treated like part of the family.  Burton's choice to set the film within a clearly fifties setting, while also making it a contemporary dialogue is likely intended to cause viewers to consider their separation from the fear and blindness of Cold War America, something that the various monster movies referenced within the film reinforce beautifully.  I cannot begin to list the other commentaries existing within this film as they are both broad and specific to scenes, suffice to say this is the single best thing offered by a Disney subsidiary since Up and reminds me that there is a clear division between this and some of the conservative oriented crap they tend to release.

Key Scene:  The introduction of the various science experiement monsters will make any lover of old sci-fi/horror movies gush with enjoyment.

Buy this bluray, I certainly intend to at some point, even if it does have a bit of a hefty price tag.  Until its release date I would suggest renting it from a Redbox.

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