14 October, 2012

Review: Frankenweenie by Tim Burton

When is a homage not a homage? When it's a pastiche.

Frankenweenie is a mess. Tim Burton needs to admit he's not only a member of Suburbia, he's one of it's biggest boosters. (His outsider card is hereby revoked.) With works like Ed Wood under his belt, being different is Burton's catchphrase. Frankenweenie is clever, visually arresting and a deep reenforcement of the stereotypes that turn kids into outsiders. (Burton hugs the status quo so hard I wondered if charges would be filed.) For a movie aimed at kids, Frankenweenie does a great job of perpetuating tired bigotries.

Young Victor is a quiet boy, preferring his dog to the company of other children. Deeply artistic, he finds creative outlets in science and stop motion animation. His father worries he might be... weird.  Of course Victor's mother reassures him that nothing is wrong with the lad. He's perfectly normal. But she goes along with the father's plan to hold Victor's scientific interests hostage unless he agrees to play a sport, perhaps even baseball like that nice boy Toshiaki? Victor's concession to his father's quiet unease results in the death of his beloved dog and the beginning of all future events. (Victor never blames his father for the accident, nor does his father blame himself. That's for the audience to do.)

Toshiaki covers all the points on the Asian character bingo card. He speaks in an erratic and assumed accent, slurring difficult English words (while voiced by an adult Brooklyn born actor). He's slant of eye and sly of nature. Good at baseball and fond of giant turtles, Toshiaki is a top student with a video camera always at hand. His faithful (and much dumber) fat friend Bob is on hand to take the risks so Toshiaki can best Victor in the science fair. When Bob breaks a bone his even fatter mother marches her cat-eye frames into the school to take down the science program. (Fat kids have fat overprotective mothers. It's a rule.) The Eastern European science teacher explains to the small minds in the small town (modest homes at modest prices!) that his goal is to expand his students minds as he cannot expand theirs. Victor's parents exchange knowing sighs as the teacher is promptly fired. Which means it's time to deal with the women. (I'd move on to talking about the black students, but the school hasn't one.)

Victor's neighbor and implied future love interest Elsa is here to show you how a young lady properly rebels. Elsa is soft of voice and sullen of manner. She may question the wisdom of lit candles in her hair but faced with male authority Elsa performs. She sings her wobbly song of patriotic love to the townspeople so they may admire how cute her fire hazard presentation is. When faced with danger she screams for help. I can't pick on Elsa. From the science averse butch gym teacher to the Weird Girl (Burton doesn't even name her. Weird Girl has a bit more backbone than Elsa but ultimately fails to hit the heroine mark. She's a pretty princess who believes the future can be foretold in cat feces.) all of the women in Frankenweenie lack the ability to save themselves. The closest we get is Victor's mother. After pacifying her husband, baking cookies, reading romances, vacuuming and offering Victor a choice of homemade breakfast goodies, Victor's mom spends a few moments fighting off monsters by her husband's side. And that concludes our look at female heroics in Frankenweenie.

In the end only Victor's reanimated pet corpse can be suffered to live - because he made it with love and therefore it's worthy. The other reanimated corpses were tainted by the lack of purity in their hearts, their desire to best Victor creating monsters. (Whatever. It's a boy and a dog story. I get it.) Further keeping Frankenweenie from reaching the mark is a confusing sense of place. The kids use large reels of film or Super 8 cameras, but also talk about running computer models. Victor's house is a love letter to late 60's fads and tableware, but the school's textbooks have removed Pluto from the list of planets. The mothers stay home in their wide skirts while the men march off to work. When the heck are we? There is much to admire in Frankenweenie on a visual level but I was kept from engaging in the story. I was unsatisfied by the message of love over ambition, devotion over determination. There's no need to make space on the dvd shelf for Frankenweenie, but you may wish to buy the inevitable Art Of  for your library.

No comments:

Post a Comment