Making the Grades
Walt Disney Studio and Tim Burton have overlooked past differences and teamed up to bring another of the director’s quirky creations to the big screen. Based on a 1984 short film Burton made (which got him fired from his then job at the Mouse House), Frankenweenie tells the story of a young boy (voiced by Charlie Tahan) who loses his beloved dog after it runs into the street and is hit by a car.
This certainly isn’t the first time Disney has dealt with the death theme. The studio has been exploring grief and the end of life for decades in movies like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi and Old Yeller. But this time, Victor’s loss doesn’t have to be forever.
Inspired by a new science teacher (voiced by Martin Landau and bearing a strong resemblance to horror film actor Vincent Price), Victor attempts to jumpstart Sparky’s heart using an elaborate electrical system he’s built in his attic laboratory. While Sparky may look a little worse for wear from his days interred in the pet cemetery, Victor is thrilled to have him back.
But Victor’s Igor-like classmate Edgar (voiced by Atticus Shaffer) sees even bigger opportunities for this life-restoring experimentation. With the school science fair only days away, Edgar can already envision himself holding the winning trophy. Unfortunately the competition to bring dead pets back to life escalates when the rest of the kids on the block also discover Vincent’s laboratory.
While this entirely black and while production contains some clever jokes, an endorsement of the value of science and some seemingly autobiographical elements (Burton’s father was a former minor league baseball player and as a child, Burton made films in his backyard using stop motion animation techniques), the script soon plummets into the typical monster movie. It pays homage to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and other frightening characters like The Mummy, Godzilla and Gremlins. Though less dark than some of Burton’s other stop motion animations (such as The Nightmare Before Christmas), Frankenweenie still contains plenty of ghoulish looking characters. It is also aimed at an older audience—hopefully ones mature enough to understand the danger of plugging a deceased pet into a wall outlet.
Like all scientific experimentation, this script incorporates numerous variables such as themes of love vs. greed and the inconsistent application of science. As well it includes some gross fecal jokes along with a few gruesome depictions. But before packing up the kids, parents will have to decide if there are enough positive points in this script to spark a visit to Burton’s bizarre adventure.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Frankenweenie.
This film is full of stereotypical characters including a smart Asian student, a dumb fat kid, a brilliant European scientist, a romance-reading suburban housewife and a loud-mouthed female gym teacher. What is the purpose of these depictions? How do they impact the need for character development? Do they contribute to or distract from the story?
Since restoring life isn’t an option for children, how can parents help their child deal with the loss of a pet? What other losses might a child have to deal with?
How are adults (such as parents, teachers and community members) portrayed in this story?