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Frankenweenie: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Review

Frankenweenie (2012) movie poster Frankenweenie

Theatrical Release: October 5, 2012 / Running Time: 87 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Tim Burton / Writers: John August (screenplay); Lenny Ripps (original screenplay); Tim Burton (original idea)

Voice Cast: Catherine O'Hara (Mrs. Susan Frankenstein, Weird Girl, Gym Teacher), Martin Short (Mr. Edward Frankenstein, Mr. Burgemeister, Nassor), Martin Landau (Mr. Rzykruski), Charlie Tahan (Victor Frankenstein), Atticus Shaffer (Edgar "E" Gore), Winona Ryder (Elsa Van Helsing), Robert Capron (Bob), James Hiroyuki Liao (Toshiaki), Conchatta Ferrell (Bob's Mom), Tom Kenny (New Holland Towns Folk) / Uncredited: Frank Welker (Sparky Frankenstein), Dee Bradley Baker (Persephone, Shelley, Were-Rat, Colossus, Mr. Whiskers, Driver), Jeff Bennett (Giant Sea Monkeys)

Buy Frankenweenie from Amazon.com: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy Blu-ray + DVD DVD Instant Video

Tim Burton's career truly has come full circle. A graduate of the storied CalArts program, Burton entered the film industry as a Disney animator. Less than enamored with that calling, he left to begin directing live-action movies, but not before making two shorts at Disney: the stop-motion animated Vincent (1982) and the half-hour black and white live-action Frankenweenie (1984). Now, a most welcome presence at Disney following his billion dollar-grossing Alice in Wonderland (2010), Burton finds himself in a perfect position to do exactly what he wants. What he wanted to do at Disney was to remake Frankenweenie as a stop motion feature film.

The 2012 Frankenweenie is still in black and white, but also in 3D.
It is populated by skeletal, bag-eyed characters unmistakably resembling the loony ones Burton designed for movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride as well as the eponymous "Family Dog" of Brad Bird's "Amazing Stories" episode.

The new Frankenweenie remains true to Burton's short, but expands the story, a variation, of course, on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, to triple the length. Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) doesn't have many friends beyond his loving dog Sparky, whom he makes the star of his quirky little home movies. Playing baseball with a nudge from his father (Martin Short), Martin's home run ball is retrieved by an excited Sparky, who is hit by a car while crossing the street.

Mourning the loss, Victor gets an idea from his science teacher's (Martin Landau, unofficially reprising his Bela Lugosi impression) reanimation of a dead frog. Working secretly in the family's attic, Victor uses the electricity from a lightning storm to try to revive Sparky's exhumed corpse. And wouldn't you know... it works. Like the monster that inspired him, Sparky has stitches around his body and bolts on each side of his head. Also, his tail and other parts occasionally fall off. But it's the same sweet old Sparky. Since he doesn't heed Victor's instructions to remain out of sight in the attic, some of the Frankensteins' neighbors notice and question the dog's puzzling reappearance.

Young Victor Frankenstein is thrilled to reunite with his beloved but deceased dog Sparky in Tim Burton's stop motion 2012 animated film "Frankenweenie."

Early on, it seems as though Burton will be able to pull off this expansion masterfully. Thirty years into professional directing, the Burton of today is as confident and as technically competent as virtually any filmmaker. His production design is never haphazard and the added detail given to Victor's hometown, now named New Holland, compels with its color and folklore that include a prominent windmill, a hunchbacked young Igor (Edgar "E" Gore), and a cat whose letter-shaped feces predicts doom.

But, as Burton films are wont to, this one loses its way with one misguided sequence that allows the director to pay extended homage to the vintage horror and sci-fi B-movies that have so clearly inspired him. Sparky's resurrection inspires Victor's classmates to experiment on their own lost pets, with disastrous results: a packet of sea monkeys becomes a devilish Gremlins-type menace, a timid cat gets crossed with a bat, and a dead turtle assumes the dimensions of a small but still threatening Godzilla. This action-driven detour comes out of nowhere and does not comfortably mesh with Victor's story, even if the science teacher utters a line to explain this fanciful subplot and even if the whole movie is love letter to Burton's influences.

Overlooking that unfortunate but relatively brief wrong turn, Frankenweenie manages to be quite an enjoyable outing, considerably better than the two underwhelming stop motion films for which Burton is best known and agreeably different from the prevalent mold of animated cinema (crowd-pleasing CG comedy). The movie isn't good simply because it's different, but it is different and that is good.

Science teacher Mr. Rzykruski's reanimation of a dead frog is the catalyst for Victor's resurrection experiment. Hunchbacked classmate Edgar "E" Gore is the first to figure out and question Sparky's reappearance.

Shockingly, though, Disney discovered that there isn't much of an audience for thematically dark black and white stop motion family horror. To date, Frankenweenie has earned under $35 million domestically, Burton's lowest gross as director since his last black and white Disney film, the highly regarded 1994 Touchstone Pictures limited release Ed Wood. That film won two Academy Awards and while Frankenweenie isn't expected to match that total, it is considered one of the leading candidates in this year's Best Animated Feature Oscar race.

That category, expected to include three Disney releases (while a potential fourth, Studio Ghibli's The Secret World of Arrietty, is ineligible), would earn Burton just his second Oscar nomination to date (the first came for Corpse Bride). The film has won the equivalent honor from a number of critics groups on both coasts and will compete for the somewhat prognosticative Golden Globe and Critics Choice awards in the next ten days.
I don't think Frankenweenie is the best of last year's strong animated offerings, but it seems a given that Brave will inspire a "share the wealth" attitude toward Pixar that will probably narrow the race down to this and Disney Animation Studios' superior Wreck-It Ralph.

Frankenweenie's box office failure and ongoing award season prospects both seem to be factors in the movie's swift arrival on home video, barely three months after its theatrical opening. That speedy timing was also employed on Burton's last Disney film, the absurdly profitable Alice, which went on to become a winner of two technical Oscars while also ranking among 2010's best-selling titles. Such commercial success probably isn't in the cards for Frankenweenie, but the movie should now reach a much larger audience, as Burton's fanbase and adult moviegoers hesitant to see an animated family film on the big screen become more apt to give the film a chance in the comfort and privacy of their home.

Watch a scene from Frankenweenie:

Frankenweenie: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray & DVD Details

1.85:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 7.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 7.1 DTS-HD HR (French), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish), Dolby Surround (Descriptive Service)
DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish), Dolby Surround (Descriptive Service)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, English, French, Spanish
Most Extras Subtitled; DVD Movie and Most Extras Closed Captioned
Suggested Retail Price: $49.99 / Release Date: January 8, 2013
Four single-sided discs (2 BD-50s, 1 DVD-9 & 1 DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Blue Keepcase in Cardboard Slipcover
Also available as Blu-ray + DVD ($39.99 SRP), standalone DVD ($29.99 SRP), and on Amazon Instant Video

VIDEO and AUDIO

Frankenweenie boasts excellent picture and sound on Blu-ray. Though painstakingly produced, the black and white 1.85:1 visuals attain the same perfection that entirely digital creations easily enjoy. Stop motion is a medium full of appeal and it's nice to see it used on something so distinctive and rich. The default 7.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is equally delightful, immersing the viewer in tasteful, active, and engaging sound design throughout.

Sparky sports a space helmet in his all-new short film "Captain Sparky vs The Flying Saucers." An animator advances the baseball game spectators one frame at a time against a green screen backdrop in "Miniatures in Motion."

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

If this four-disc combo pack is to disappoint Blu-ray enthusiasts in any way, it might be with its modest supply of bonus features. Though there isn't an abundance of content (for instance, no Burton commentary or deleted scenes), everything that is here -- all of which is found on the standard 2D Blu-ray -- is good to quite good.

The extras begin with Captain Sparky vs The Flying Saucers (2:26), a brisk but amusing all-new short film that finds Victor and Sparky watching one of their adventurous movies.

"Miniatures in Motion: Bringing Frankenweenie to Life" (23:06) is a stellar making-of featurette that documents the London production, covering all the bases from Burton's motivations and the creation of puppets and sets to the gray-driven art design and painstaking animation process.

Producer Allison Abbate talks up the Frankenweenie Touring Exhibit at its North American debut in San Diego's 2012 Comic-Con. Victor (Barret Oliver), Sparky, and Mrs. Frankenstein (Shelley Duvall) share a moment together in Tim Burton's original 1984 live-action short "Frankenweenie."

"Frankenweenie Touring Exhibit" (4:36) spotlights the promotional exhibit of art, puppets, props, and sets that appeared at Comic-Con and various cities around the globe in 2012.

What is to be for some the most exciting thing on this set is the original 1984 live-action Frankenweenie short (30:03), which stars Barret Oliver (of The NeverEnding Story and D.A.R.Y.L.) as Victor and Daniel Stern and Shelley Duvall as his parents, while also featuring appearances by Sofia Coppola (credited as "Domino" for some reason) and "The Wonder Years"' Jason Hervey. Minus some subplots, the story is the same: boy brings recently deceased dog back to life to the concerns of his parents and the fears of his neighborhood. The execution is different but comparable and highly appealing. It's kind of a shame that this Blu-ray misses the opportunity to upgrade this short to high definition; it's the only SD video on the disc.

"I don't want to be buried in a pet sematary," sings Tom Higgenson and Plain White T's in the music video for their Ramones cover. Sparky catches some shuteye by his tombstone in the Pet Cemetery on the DVD's main menu.

Finally, we get the music video for "Pet Sematary" (3:54), the Plain White T's cover of the song the Ramones wrote and performed for the 1989 Stephen King film of the same name.

The band performs on a set inspired by Frankenweenie amidst film clips in this fitting black and white presentation of a fun song, which is not featured in the film but on the companion soundtrack Frankenweenie Unleashed!

The Blu-ray and DVD also include Disney's dated digital copy video (1:04).

Identical to the one sold on its own with a ridiculous "DVD" banner on its cover, the third disc in this set only contains the Touring Exhibit short and Plain White T's music video. I find it curious that studios are sticking with the "scale back the DVD to make the Blu-ray look more attractive" approach that I still strongly oppose.

The lightweight digital copy DVD-ROM offers the film in one iTunes and two Windows Media formats.

The Sneak Peeks listing repeats the disc opening trailers for Oz: The Great and Powerful, Wreck-It Ralph, and The Muppet Movie: The Nearly 35th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray, then adds promos for Disney Movie Rewards, "Once Upon a Time", Disney Parks, Peter Pan: Diamond Edition, Return To Never Land: Special Edition Blu-ray, and the now theater-bound Planes. Frankenweenie's own trailer is disappointingly absent.

On all three set-top formats, the menu chills with Sparky sleeping at the pet cemetery while rain falls, lightning strikes, and bats fly by. Disney apparently has not made the New Year's Resolution I wanted; the Blu-rays still don't support bookmarks or resume playback, although at least they remember where

The four discs are stacked on opposite sides of a standard Blu-ray case. They are joined by a booklet of coupons and ads and a Disney Movie Rewards/Disney Digital Copy pamphlet and topped by an embossed slipcover.

The Frankensteins and others look on with interest as Sparky formally meets his bride in the form of white-streaked poodle Persephone.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though the expansion from live-action short to stop motion feature is not without some bumps, Frankenweenie is inspired entertainment that ranks among the more satisfying works of Tim Burton's colorful career. The film comes close to a greatness that has largely eluded the director and though it loses points for a random rough patch, it still delights much more thoroughly than his underwhelming previous animated efforts.

Disney's combo pack delivers a dynamite presentation of the film in four formats plus a strong hour of bonus features including the winning original short.

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Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD + Digital Copy / Blu-ray + DVD / DVD / Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Written by Tim Burton: The Nightmare Before Christmas | Produced by Tim Burton: James and the Giant Peach
Directed by Tim Burton: Dark Shadows Alice in Wonderland Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street Ed Wood
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Stop Motion Animation: Coraline Fantastic Mr. Fox Mad Monster Party A Town Called Panic The Miracle Maker
New: Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days Rankin/Bass TV Holiday Favorites Collection Following
Meet the Robinsons The Hole Pet Sematary Hocus Pocus Treasure Planet

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Reviewed January 4, 2013.



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