No Spoilers in my review

I'll kick this off with something pulled from an email I sent after getting home from the movie last night:

Frankenweenie to me is an amazing film in almost every respect. Nothing clunky about it - it goes down smooth like raspberry ice cream soda. It feels better to me than anything since - well, Nightmare Before Christmas really. I'd call it Burton's magnum opus** (see note below). He seems to have grown out of his youthful angstiness and the rather excessive things the earlier films went overboard with (for instance the musical numbers in Nightmare, which got old quick for me and began to grate on my nerves like overboisterous kids on a sugar binge). It recalls some moments from some of his best films, but in a mellow way that really agrees with me (more so in some repsects than the films it recalls). A touching and endearing story, great characters (though most of the human characters only get backgroundy roles - it's really a love story between a boy and his dog). The black and white pushes it right into perfection for me, especially combined with 3d. I love that it begins with a jerky stopmo film made by Victor (the boy) being projected in the living room for his parents to watch - in 3d no less! I thought for most of the film that it was set in the 1950's - the set designs and ambience are a fond look back at that era that felt like a comfortable easy chair to me. But the real standout is the dog... you'll fall in love with Sparky again and again. I think it might be the coolest stopmo puppet I've ever seen - like evar! Even though the theater I went to had the 3D screwed up for the first 5 minutes and everything was very flat, blurry, and had weird double-images until the dad of the family behind me went and talked to them about it and it went through this weird phase where the right lens of everybody's glasses went dark and had lines flashing down it rapidly for about 20 seconds, and then suddenly everything jumped out in perfectly-registered sweet-as-hell 3D - I say, even though that happened, I was left with a fantastic feeling.

And I didn't really think I was going to like F'nWeenie much! From the trailers the human puppet designs didn't appeal to me and I wanted them to be more stylized like Vincent. But mere seconds into the actual film that didn't matter at all, and in fact I discovered that this is essence of Burton, distilled and mellowed - less aggressive and super-stylized than in the past, but even sweeter and with a heady bouquet.

Anybody else seen it yet? Share your impressions.

** Magnum Opus does not mean his masterpiece - a magnum opus is a piece often included at the beginning of a classical music concerto that contains bits and pieces of all the various themes that will then be presented as full songs. And while it's presented at the beginning of the performance, oviously it was written after all the other songs. What I mean by calling Frankenweenie Burton's magnum opus is that it contains bits and pieces of the themes found throughout his other films - the sweet suburban panorama of Edward Scissorhands, the love of the main character and his dog from Nightmare Before Christmas, the dog is a patchwork creation like Sally, it deals with themes of 50's giant monster on the loose movies in a loving and satirical way. Oh, and there's Winona Ryder and Catherine O'Hara from Beetlejuice. Discussions between Victor and his mom recall Vincent quite nicely.

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Pfft. Kids these days. Show 'em Old Yeller and really traumatize them.

I thought I'd write something here now that I've got Frankenweenie in my Blu-Ray player and have seen it a couple more times. 

In my first post on this thread I said there was something about Frankenweenie that "goes down smooth as silk" and that seeing it suddenly made me realize (which I had never noticed before) that by contrast, most other stopmotion features feel somehow 'clunky'. I've been mulling over this thought ever since my initial viewing of Frankenweenie in the theater, and now I can confirm I still feel that way about it and I understand what it is a little better. I'll try to explain what I meant with those somewhat vague words. 

I suppose it can be expressed best by saying Frankenweenie has a certain soothing quality compared to the more boisterous nature of most of the other American stopmo features since (and including) Nightmare Before Christmas. This quality can be felt in every aspect - visuals, sound design, action, dialogue, etc. Maybe a good way to say it is Frankenweenie is more of a carousel ride compared to the hyperkinetic roller coasters of the other films. 

Beginning with the fact that it's presented in black and white, and in a rather restrained way. There's plenty of atmosphere, as befitting something inspired by Frankenstein and other classic Universal monster movies, but I like the fact that it's subtle where it could easily have been over the top with weird camera angles and harsh shadow-slashed lighting. 

This restraint is felt all throughout production design - in the pool-table flat landscapes (aside from the hilly graveyard) and the retro 50's style interiors that resemble architectural illustrations of the period. I normally like more 'sculptural' landscapes, but it struck me as I watched recently that the flat terrain actually is the perfect compliment to the simple uncluttered 50's design of the buildings - diametrically opposed to ParaNorman's twisted chaos (not to demean that film's design, which I also love but in a different way). 

Another factor that really struck me in a re-watch was the texture. It's everywhere, but it's understated, and it's all perfect. So understated that at first it goes under the radar, but all the textures are superb - maybe the finest I've seen in a stopmotion film (and stopmotion is nothing if not a showcase for artistic displays of all manner of textures). So I was not surprised in the featurettes to hear Burton giving great emphasis to textures. 

The human puppet design might be the weakest element for me - I'm not sure about the proportioning, which somehow seems like a compromise to me. I do love the fact that the faces are stylized like cartoons which are then brought to 3 dimensional existence, rather than the Laika approach which I would describe as extremely realistic human facial anatomy with every bone and muscle in place but then distorted. Again, I also like the ParaNorman approach, but I just prefer the faces in Frankenweenie. This is just my own personal preference of course, but I disapprove of the increasingly realistic human puppet designs progressing through the lineage of full stopmo features, and was pleased to see at last a return to the more stylized Burton - um - style. And I know, Corpse Bride used a Burton style, but it felt more like those characters were intended to be living breathing humans that were just distorted, whereas to me Frankenweenie feels more like cartoon characters - maybe a very subtle distinction that I find hard to describe any better. 

Earlier on this thread we discussed narrative, and I totally agree ParaNorman excels at narrative development (though I maintain there's something somehow a bit awkward in that as well), but to me narrative is not a necessary component of every movie. Those that do narrative really well are great movies of course (assuming nothing else is screwed up too badly), but I like lots of non-narrative films, and I like the episodic approach taken with Frankenweenie. In fact I have to say the climactic section of ParaNorman went on a long time and kept ratcheting up to ever more intense levels of energy - this viewer felt exhausted by it halfway through that lengthy climax (I also don't appreciate the overly manic energy levels of Nightmare's musical numbers for the most part - but I'm a pretty low energy person, which probably explains why I really dig the relaxing soothing aspects of Frankenweenie). 

Ok, I guess that covers what I wanted to say for the most part. It seems like there was a little more, but if I think of it I'll add it later. 

Frankenweenie is not only only my favorite animated of the year but may be my favorite movie; I also loved Skyfall. Fw really struck a chord with me. No doubt Paranorman is an astonishing technical achievement and is far more polished than Fw, but for me Tim Burtons movie has more heart. It brought me back to a more innocent time in life. I like that they didn't over-polish the animation; I love the chattering grass in some scenes. It all boils down to personal taste.

Very well said - it has more heart and takes you back to a more innocent time. Yeah, very important factors. 

Strider what did you think about the extras on the disk? I liked the one long behind the scene episode and the Sparky short episode. I also liked the statement that getting 2 seconds of film by an animator was a good day and that there were 30 animators on the project. I was just disappointed that there was no other behind the scenes. I did not miss the standard "voices behind the puppets" extra. Plus I think I also heard that Sparky set the scale for the film and it was at 3.6 which was very large for a stopmotion film. I saw online that Sparky was 4 inches.

Yeah, pretty basic bare bones BTS stuff. Certainly not material to knock the socks off the technical types who want to see closeups on all the armatures etc. Like you said, I didn't miss the voice talent segment either, would have been kind of weird since all the voices were done by only like 3 people!! 

One thing that got on my nerves though was that fake 'miniature' effect they used so much! Apparently a lot of it was shot through a tilt/shift lens or had some kind of post filter applied so the full size photography would look miniaturuzed, and the result is that most of what you see is out of focus. Very frustrating when you want to carefully scan every inch of the workshop and try to figure out what kind of equipment and materials they used!

They obviously used replacement animation for the mouth on at least 1 character - the science teacher. And it had a lot more chatter than the RP animation as used by Laika. Makes me wonder if they also used similar rapid prototyping technology or just hand-sculpted the replacements? 

On the new short - I found myself wishing it was done differently. Same applies to the short filmed by Victor that begins the movie - I wish it was animated at something better than 6 fps. I understand that way it looks like so many noob efforts - especially those done in super-8 days with no framegrabber, but not all of them were that jerky and bad! I would either liked to see a film made by Victor that showed he had improved as an animator/filmmaker since his last one, or maybe just a short about Sparky himself, the way they do the Skrat shorts on the Ice Age movies. You know, I mean not as if shot by Victor, but animated beautifully by the Frankenweenie crew. 

I wish the film(s) made by Victor had more of that sense of magic that we all got from seeing our first animation efforts - I mean those first efforts in most cases probably did look like what Victor shot, but to us it didn't - through the lens of our eager eyes it looked almost like Harryhausen! I would have liked to see some really promising moments of amateur animation pop up here and there in Victor's work. 

Also, speaking of that scene that starts the movie, I wonder what was implied when Victor lifted down the projector to bring it back up to his attic studo and there was another projector sitting beside it onthe table? Maybe to imply that Dad has his own projector? I don't know - kind of weird though. But I love the way all the kids had super-8 cameras and kept using them. In fact I love the retro design of those 50's style cameras and the way it complemented the design of everything else in the movie - one of my favorites was the fondue pot! 

I mean, I'm thinking a kid who's capable of Frankensteining his dog back to life on the first try would be able to do some better animation, right? Would have been really cool if him and his friends were all amateur filmmakers but he's the one into stopmotion. But that would be a different movie altogether.. 

I think the two projectors was meant to imply Victors film is in 3D. I'll watch it again but I think they all had glasses on.

One thing I was happy to see is how they fixed the tones on the red white and blue banners by using yellow for red. I often wondered if the movie was shot in color and fixed in post.

Oh duh! You're right. 3D. 

Here's a nice article/interview with Tim Burton.; he talks Harryhausen and stopmotion.

 

http://www.hitfix.com/in-contention/tim-burton-on-ray-harryhausen-s...

Tim Burton on Ray Harryhausen, stop-motion and the personal touch of 'Frankenweenie'

The Oscar nominee discusses coming back to the property that got him fired


<p>Tim Burton on the set of "Frankenweenie"</p>

Tim Burton on the set of "Frankenweenie"

Credit: Walt Disney Pictures

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The last time Tim Burton made the awards press rounds, he was a nominee for 2005's "Corpse Bride." Interestingly enough, after a few decades in the live action trenches carving out his own identity and aesthetic on the screen, it's been only in the animation arena that Oscar has taken notice. He's back again this year as a nominee for his most personal film in some time, "Frankenweenie."


Eight years ago, though, he was questioning whether stop-motion animation would continue to find a place or whether computer animation would dominate. What has happened, though, is a touch of hybridization, as exemplified by films like fellow nominee "ParaNorman." And Burton seems a bit more hopeful for his chosen method going forward.

"I remember a number of years ago when they said they wouldn't do hand-drawn animation anymore and it looked like it was going to be all computers," he says. "Fortunately they did more hand-drawn, so I feel the same way about stop-motion. You hope that it transcends what the studios feel about box office. It's still an interesting art form."

He gravitated toward the art form largely because of the physicality of it, which makes perfect sense when you consider the heavy art department influence on his films. And it's something that stretches back a long way for him, too. His first experiences with stop-motion came with the Ray Harryhausen effects in films of the 1960s like "Jason and the Argonauts" that he would watch with wonder while growing up in Burbank, California.

"It was strong and goes right inside you and sticks with you like a dream," he says. "Harryhausen was always a singular artist. It was like he was an actor; he was like the character. There was a personal feeling about the medium and the way he sort of infused it that made it a strong, visceral experience. The way all the monsters died, there was just a real sense of emotion in there that was really interesting."

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With notions like that in mind, "Frankenweenie" became an exercise in memory perception. But first a little background.

The film is a revisitation of the 1984 short film that in essence got Burton fired from Disney all those years ago. After graduating from the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia with future animation greats like Brad Bird and John Lasseter, he and a number of his classmates made their way to the Walt Disney Animation Studio as grunts of a sort, animators in the trenches.

"At that time it was a new program," Burton says, "and I guess it seemed to attract an interesting group of people who wouldn't have these sort of strange opportunities. And to be fair, I was really lousy at it. I wasn't really suited for it. I always admire animators because it takes two sides of your brain at one time. It takes patience and it takes creativity, and I found that my patience wasn't quite up to it. Sitting at the desk, there was something about it that I couldn't quite click with."

But stop-motion, again, was always something that stuck with him. So it's ironic that he's come full circle with the property that got him booted from the company that would go on to distribute an Oscar-nominated feature version, but it's also part of the meta narrative of the material: It became a memory piece.

"I started thinking about all the kids I knew in school and certain teachers, certain specific locations in Burbank, the feeling of the classes," Burton says. "And the other monster movies, adopting this 'House of Frankenstein' structure, putting different monsters into one movie. All of that made it feel different and sort of expanded on those memories. And when I was first at Disney until now, there've been lots of incarnations. But it's where I started, so it certainly has some resonance with me. To go back and revisit that story and expand on it and do it in stop-motion, it felt very positive for me."

Even still, Burton isn't the sort to revisit his work. He can't remember the last time he looked at his introductory animated short, "Stalk of the Celery Monster." At a recent MoMA retrospective of his work over the years, he says he just "wandered through like a zombie. I find it difficult to watch films I've done. I don't feel like Norma Desmond sitting there running them all night long."

Which makes something as personal as "Frankenweenie" special, and frankly, rare for Burton these days. No matter what you do, you try to personalize art, he says. So there are touches to be found in the high gloss of things like "Dark Shadows," "Alice in Wonderland," "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" and "Planet of the Apes," films that have felt more superficially "Tim Burton" than things like "Edward Scissorhands," "Ed Wood" or, indeed, "Frankenweenie." But the new film was a personal process, he says, "to relate it to a memory of something."

With that in mind, Burton says he doesn't really have anything on deck at the moment. His "Alice in Wonderland" has wrought desperate fairytale money-grabs like "Snow White and the Huntsman" and "Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters," which he jokes about, and the experience of his latest Oscar nominee has seemingly had an effect on him. He pauses for a moment of introspection.

"I'm taking a moment to sort of feel it out," he says. "I haven't done that in a while and I maybe need to do that for a second."

"Frankenweenie" is nominated for Best Animated Feature Film and is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.


Read more at http://www.hitfix.com/in-contention/tim-burton-on-ray-harryhausen-s...

Wow!! I just got the Visual Companion book, and I gotta say - it's a real knockout!! Absolutely gorgeous! Packed with huge full-page black-and-white photos, some from the movie and quite a few shot just for the book, inlcuding portraits of the characters... the stunning photography alone is well worth the price. I've just flipped through it so far, haven't dug into the info yet, but I see lots of pics of puppets under construction, armatures, and loads of other cool stuff... this looks like it might be the best of the Visual Companion books. 

When I get ahold of a really gorgeous book like this I take off the dustjacket while I'm reading it, and then put a plastic cover on the dustjacket to preserve it - and I got quite a surprise when I pulled it off! Not only another hidden image printed on the cover, but a few more printed on the inside of the dj!! Almost like finding a Golden Ticket inside a candybar wrapper! 

Strider's Recommendation - if you love the movie or excellent black-and-white photography (and if you're a fan of one then chances are you're a fan of the other as well.. ) then don't let this one pass you by! 

I've had the book in my Saved to Buy Later for ages, waiting for it to be released.  Thanks for the heads up - I just put in my order!  I'll look out for the dust jacket easter eggs.

It's not quite my favourite stop motion film, though Sparky gets my award for best performance by a stop motion dog, hands down.  Maybe of any dog.  I've finally seen ParaNorman and I think I put it just slightly ahead - it took me somewhere I didn't quite expect, flipping things around quite nicely.  Whereas Weenie's affectionate send-up of Frankenstein and other old horror classics films seemed to tread more familiar territory.  But like you Strider, I need to watch them both again to see how I feel.  Neither is released on video here yet so I'll have to wait for that.

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