BY EMILY GAGNE
Frankenweenie? More like Frankenweepie, am I right!?
When I first saw the original Frankenweenie, the live-action Tim Burton short film, I didn’t quite get all the fuss. My mom had told me it was unbearably sad, so as I watched it, I kept the Kleenex close by and mentally braced myself for facial waterfalls. Much to my surprise, nothing happened. I definitely felt sad at some moments, as a young boy named Victor was forced to revive his run-over dog/only real friend. But nothing hit me hard enough to muster a single tear.
Fast forward six or so years, to the release of the animated Frankenweenie and me, that same girl who was a stone-faced, stone-hearted statue watching the original, crying like Dawson Leery. You see, I saw the Tim Burton flick at the theatres back in the fall and I pretty much fell to pieces during the opening credits. The reason being? Over these past two years, I’ve fallen in love. I’ve fallen in love with my first-ever dog, my little brother’s English bulldog, Charlie.
Back when I watched the original Frankenweenie, I was nearly a dog hater. The fact was, the growling things scared me to death. They were just too excitable for my sullen and sarcastic personality and GOD, did they stink. The worst part was, these critters could sense my immense dislike for them, trying to impress me by jumping at/humping my leg excessively upon our first meeting. This made for a fairly guarded childhood, one in which I had to mentally brace myself every time I entered a new person’s home. So when my brother wanted to get a dog, I was fully against it, pleading with my parents to buy him a manly cat instead. Alas, things went his way and my nightmare care true: a small, barking beast entered our household.
But, as I would find out within minutes of meeting this little charge I’d come to call Master Charles, he wasn’t a beast at all. In fact, he was the most adorable and lovely thing I had ever met. All I wanted to do in that moment was hug him, let him walk all over my new jeans and take him out for a leisurely walk (note: cardio and I are not good friends in the slightest.) And that’s pretty much all I’ve done since then. He’s 60 pounds now, so the walking all over me thing isn’t too enjoyable, and, since bulldogs are known to be stubborn, it’s hard to get him to walk across the room, let alone down and around the street. But I still try. Because he’s one of my best friends, if not my best (shh … don’t tell my mom!), and I want to spend as much time with him as I can.
All this personal stuff said, I settled in to watch the animated Frankenweenie with a wholly different heart than the one that breezed through the live-action version. This time around, I immediately connected with the story and its main character, Victor, a unquestionably bright boy who might not have had a lot of friends at school, but had a great one in his dog, Sparky. I understood Victor’s pain as he watched his closest buddy meet his maker on the cold hard pavement. And I cried. I cried a lot. Even though I knew that shortly after the fatal car accident, Victor would reanimate Sparky with the help of some electricity and assorted household items. Because in my mind, Sparky was Charlie, and vice versa. And, like Victor, I would have a real hard time dealing with the loss of my special pal.
I’m sure a lot of not-so-personal things contributed to my immense connection and love for the new Frankenweenie. The stop-motion animation was stellar, especially with the accompanying black and white backdrop setting the merrily macabre scenes. The voice work was also good, as Burton regulars Catherine O’Hara (A Nightmare Before Christmas) Martin Landau (Ed Wood) and Winona Ryder (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands) took on multiple roles. And how could you not love all the pointed retro monster movie references that constantly clawed their way into the plot, particularly the finale? I even enjoyed the obvious Frankenstein motifs, and I kind of despise the original novel (I had to read it three times in school, OK?).
While I’m certainly not one to say that you need to be able to fully relate to a movie to truly love it (if that was the case, I wouldn’t be able to call E.T. or The Lost Boys my favourite movies), my experience with the two Frankenweenie movies makes me think that it does help. As we grow up and out of our adolescent idiosyncrasies, we learn to see many things — people, pets, films — in different lights. Sometimes the new results can be unflattering, killing any feelings you once had for a particular thing (see: when I rewatched my formerly favourite Olsen twin movie, Our Lips Are Sealed, or listened to B*witched for the first time 10 years). But other times, things look totally fresh under your new and improved adult spotlight, and suddenly, that something or other that was once dead to you suddenly comes alive.
(OK, they still sorta smell.)