Everyone knows the names of the great philosophers in life. Aristotle believed in doing good for goodness’ sake. Socrates held virtue above all other human characteristics. Nietzsche thought that people were driven by achievement. And Tim Burton argues that reality and the impossible walk a fine line.
My name is Jessica and I believe in Tim Burton.
I have been a Burtonite since I was a child with such greats as Beetlejuice, Batman, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, and what seems to be everyone’s favorite these days, The Nightmare Before Christmas frequently playing in the VCR. Granted, it wasn’t until high school that I discovered that all of my favorite movies were from the mind of a dark and twisted genius who grew up lonely in the suburbs of Burbank, California. In college, my world became immersed with reading his autobiography (now in a rereleased extended version) and learning everything I could about my favorite filmmaker.
Frankenweenie is the retelling of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as only Tim Burton could deliver. He takes notes from the classic monster films of his childhood and interjects those themes into the story of a child and his pet. Victor is a young boy obsessed with making monster movies, science, and his dog—his only friend—Sparky. When Sparky tragically dies, Victor is left to pick up the pieces of the loss of his best friend.
For anyone who has ever known the grief that comes with the loss of a pet or friend, this story will recognize that pain without simplifying it, as so many other filmmakers do when creating a story for children. The agony that Victor feels when his dog is buried in the pet cemetery is not made light of. The boy is allowed to cry and be upset about Sparky’s passing, with comforting parents that try to help ease his sorrow.
One of the best quotes in the film and trailer is from Victor’s mom:
“When you lose someone you love, they move into a special place in your heart.”
I love this quote for so many reasons, but ultimately because it doesn’t diminish the fact that what was loved was lost. Sure, there is nothing that can be said to make someone feel better when they are grieving, but this line is just a beautiful, matter-of-fact statement from a mother to her son. There is no sugar-coated sweetness, just the plain and simple truth.
Of course in his pain, Victor is inconsolable until one fateful day when a science teacher inspires him to use electricity to bring his beloved pet back to life. It is through this very grand gesture that Victor and Sparky are reunited.
How many times have we seen two characters brought back together because of a grand gesture? Film frequently teaches us that if we move across the country for our mate, fight like hell through illness, or risk everything for something that we believe in we will have a happy ending.
And that’s where Frankenweenie is different.
Yes, Victor and Sparky are together again after the experiment, but it is not without consequence. Some gestures, like breaking the laws of nature, are just not meant to be made. Sure, it wouldn’t make for a very compelling story if after Victor has his dog’s corpse struck by lightning, Sparky’s tail never wagged again, but the fact that such perilous events occur after the dog is brought back to life, show how dangerous the consequences of a grand gesture can be. Rarely does a romantic comedy end with one spouse giving up everything and moving across oceans or generations to find out that their lover is not going to be on the other side waiting for them. There’s a reason most grand gestures are in movies and not reality.
Burton is once again daring us to believe in the impossible, but reminding us that in doing so, we must accept that the reality of the impossible might just be better left in one’s mind. We can choose to accept the fate that is in front of us or we can risk it all and attempt to change it.
Kind of deep for a kid’s movie if you ask me.