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FRANKENWEENIE (review)

FRANKENWEENIE
Written by John August
Directed by Tim Burton
Voices by Charlie Tahan, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Winona Ryder and Martin Landau
 

Mr. Rzykriski: Even after death, the wiring remains.

Almost 30 years ago, Tim Burton was fired from Walt Disney for supposedly wasting the company’s resources on non-family friendly fare like his 1984 short film, FRANKENWEENIE. The definition of what constitutes a family film has changed significantly since then, thanks in great part ironically to Burton game changers like ALICE IN WONDERLAND, and subsequently Burton’s career has come around full circle with his latest creation. By going back to his roots and re-imagining his live-action short film as a stop-motion animation feature, Burton has made his best film since 2003’s BIG FISH. I might even call FRANKENWEENIE Burton’s best work since his seminal classic, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS.

Considering FRANKENWEENIE is the story of a dog named Sparky, who is more or less brought back to life after being tragically hit by a car one day, the film itself is surprisingly charming and jovial. And John August’s feature length adaptation is shockingly bursting with life, considering the whole thing is about the undead and learning how to accept loss. This is the trick that makes FRANKENWEENIE such a treat; that it never shies away from the creepy and the ghoulish, but it does so with such a light, unimposing tone that it strikes this perfect balance between dark and delightful at all times. Burton is clearly enjoying himself and not taking himself, or the expectations of who he has become as a filmmaker, seriously at all, an extraordinary feat when you consider how painstaking it must have been to work with all that clay for all that time.

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FRANKENWEENIE, a stunning black and white film experience, is chock full of colorful characters, but it is the guy at the center of it all that holds this crazy adventure together. Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) is misunderstood, spends all of his time in the attic and has just lost his best and only friend. It is a lonely place to be and one that is quintessential to the Burton film experience. Burton’s own personal understanding of feeling like the odd man out has always informed his work as a filmmaker, but he hasn’t been that man himself in quite some time. As much as he deserves the fanfare for being such an imaginative director, it is refreshing to see that he does still understand what it feels like to be all alone in this crazy world.

4.5 sheep

Q & A with FRANKENWEENIE star, CHARLIE TAHAN

(voice of Victor Frankenstein)

Black Sheep Reviews: First of all, congratulations on the film! It is by far my favourite animated film of the year. How excited were you when you first learned you were going to be a part of it? How exactly did you get the part?

Charlie Tahan: I loved Tim Burton movies since I was really little, so I  almost couldn’t believe it when I heard I booked it.  It was a long audition process.  I think from the first time I read for “Victor” til I found out, it was about a year.  I had a bunch of callbacks, and met with the casting directors and producers along the way.  For a while I didn’t even know that it was for an animated film – I thought it was for a live-action movie because they filmed the auditions.  I really couldn’t believe that I got it – I had never done a voice role before, but I was so happy.

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BSR: You were not even alive when the original Frankenweenie short was produced. Had you seen it before making this is film? And presuming you did see it, what if anything did you take from it to inform the character of Victor? What else did you bring to find Victor’s voice?

TAHAN: I think I actually did see the original when I was really little; I think we had it on tape. But it was so long ago, and I didn’t watch it again until I found out I booked it. It is a really cool short film. I wouldn’t really say I took anything from it, directly. But I think Victor is sort of based on Tim when he was a kid and Victor is a real, relatable, natural kind of kid. So I just tried to keep Victor very real and natural. I tried to keep my normal voice, and that is what Tim wanted, I think.

BSR: For such a young man, you’ve worked on some very big projects with some very big and talented names, and Tim Burton is one of the biggest yet. How was it to work with this legendary filmmaker?

TAHAN: Tim Burton was basically like my favorite director while I was growing up!  I loved so many of his movies, even when I was really little, so I couldn’t believe I was working on a “Tim Burton Movie!”  But when I actually met him, he was so nice, and it was so easy to work with him.  He knows exactly what he wants and is very … calm.  He is a really nice guy.

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BSR: The trend in animated film this year seemed to be related to scarier, darker projects, which was met with mixed results from audiences. Why do you think audiences are hesitant about scarier family fare? Is it as simple as saying parents want to protect their kids from feeling frightened?

TAHAN: Hmmm, I’m not sure. My parents always sort of let me watch scary movies. I guess some parents try to “protect” their kids from stuff like that. Maybe they think kids can’t handle it? But my parents always like, talked to me about stuff, and just explained things to me … So scary movies were not too scary to me. I knew they were just movies and I liked being a little scared! And my little sister loves scary movies. I don’t know, I guess it is up to each family, and it depends on the kid, I guess.

BSR: I hear Frankenweenie has great odds at the Oscars this year for animated feature, especially after all the accolades it is getting from critics groups right now. How does it feel to be a part of such a celebrated project?

TAHAN: It is amazing. “Frankenweenie” is such a good movie, and no matter what, I am so proud to be a part of it.  I don’t actually read reviews or anything, but I love this movie and I am really proud that I am part of it.

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BSR: Your future is looking very bright. You have upcoming projects with Woody Allen, Marion Cotillard and Peter Fonda. At 14, do you find it difficult to balance work with play? Also, what can you tell me about your parts in these projects?

TAHAN: In the Woody Allen movie, I only have a small role but it was really cool working on that.  The movie with Marion Cotillard? I just had a small part in that too. But I just got to see a bunch of footage and that movie looks amazing.  It’s called “Blood Ties” and it looks so good; I can’t wait to see it.  I am still filming the movie with Peter Fonda.  There is an amazing cast, and we go back to work after the holidays. I can’t wait to see everyone again.

I go to public school and they are really good about supporting me while I am working, but it is hard sometimes.  I’m working on a movie right now, and I have a teacher on set, but  I go back to school just in time for midterms – I hope I am all caught up for school when I go back!  I do get to hang out with my friends and stuff… I live in a small town so I get to do normal stuff when I am not filming.

Your turn!

How many sheep would you give Frankenweenie?

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