Tim Burton’s dark twisted point of view contrasts with his deep sense of happy fifties nostalgia here, as in many of his prior films. Burton seems to have a love/hate relationship with the fifties and sixties suburbs, mocking the apparent conformity of those who live there while reveling in artifacts and idealized, Hollywood-ised “feel” of the time.
It’s been a long while since we’ve seen fondues served to a family sitting around at table on an ordinary weeknight. The gardens and picket fences indicate that therein lies brutal anti-cool. In fact, it’s as fascinating a place as any other because people live there. People are what make life interesting. And frankly, Burton seems obsessed by the ‘burbs having set so many stories there, in that land.
And in one house in Burton‘s saturated black and white unnamed suburbia world live the Frankensteins, mom, dad and Victor (Martin Short, Catherine O’Hara, Victor Tajan). Victors’ beloved companion Sparky the dog –aptly named it turns out – is the star of the animated films Victor makes at home. He’s a bit of a loner.
His teacher who has just been fired for being an aesthete (a Vincent Price-esque Martin Landau) encourages Victor to stick to his heart’s calling and artistic vision no matter what it takes. And in an amazing biology class demonstration, the teacher made a dead frog move by jolting him with an electrical shock.
Victor takes what he’s learned to heart when Sparky is hit by a car and killed. He uses his knowledge of electricity and his heartbreak and through an incredible feat of ingenuity and construction builds a gateway between life and death. He rigs the attic with common fifties and sixties household items and creates an ingenious electricity trap to experiment on Sparky’s lifeless body.
Nightly thunder and lightning storms in the district are a boon. He hooks Sparky up to his machine and waits for lighting. It comes, lighting up the attic and Sparky is shocked back to life, sewn up wounds, missing tail and all. Their reunion joy is sweet. They then keep each other company while Victor practices revivifying dead things, and making movies, keeping Sparky’s presence – and his experiments - secret.
But word gets out. Victor could never have imagined the ripple effect that his “work” created at home, and in the town. His experiments on dead animals at the cemetery – especially the amazing Shelly the turtle – go haywire and the town fills up with rampaging pet zombies. Trouble!
Burton’s visuals are almost too gorgeous to look at – the rich black and white is eerily captivating, nostalgic and exciting. We may imagine we see things that aren’t there, in this Hallowe’en-esque world. It’s a beautiful place exquisitely detailed where anything can happen. There are salutes to dozens of films and books, my favorites are the noir film references, and plenty of double entendres.
Winona Ryder’s absolutely believable as the adolescent Elsa Van Helsing (see? References!) a neighbor and schoolmate, despite their nearly thirty year age difference. It’s great to see her back with Burton. Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short play multiple roles with the kind of genius that comes along with forty years’ experience with voices.
Absolutely love this film.
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35mm animated comedy horror – 3D
Written by John August, Tim Burton
Directed by Tim Burton
Opens: Sept. 28
Runtime: 87 minutes
MPAA: PG 13