by A. Journey
First, I want to wish everyone a happy Halloween and I hope you all are planning to go out dressed up as your favorite movie characters tonight. I wanted to go as Wreck-it-Ralph this year, but do you know how hard it is to find red overalls for someone 6’5″?
Before I get into my double feature review for Frankenweenie and ParaNorman, I want to direct your attention to a couple of things:
If you haven’t already heard, yesterday brought the biggest film news of the decade thus far: Disney just purchased Lucasfilm. The biggest implication of this is that the House of Mouse now owns the Star Wars franchise, and they are planning a new trilogy to launch in 2015… Finally, the Star Wars sequels audiences actually wanted.
The other thing I wanted to talk about is the 2011 film Dream House starring Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz. This movie is proof of the power of marketing and the influence of the Rotten Tomato-meter. As far as marketing, the trailers sold this as a psychological horror film and basically gives most of the plot away. But here’s the thing: the movie is NOT a horror movie. AT ALL. And the plot you get from the trailer completely runs its course at about the film’s midpoint. It has some elements of a thriller, but it’s much more an uplifting mystery/drama/fairy tale. Most people were expecting horror, so it was horribly reviewed by critics and owns a 6% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. DON’T LISTEN TO IT. The movie is far from perfect, but I’m going to take a stand right here and defend it. I loved Dream House and it is ridiculously underrated and misunderstood. With a very unique structure/mode of storytelling, with great actors, and with a big slap in the face to movies like Shutter Island, Dream House is awesome and I highly recommend it to all my readers.
Now, enter this haunted house for some spooky reviews…
Frankenweenie (dir. Tim Burton)
As a fan of the original live-action short film, I was slightly underwhelmed by the full-length animated feature. Not because it wasn’t good, but because the charm and new-ness of the story wasn’t there for me. Half of the film is a great and faithful adaptation, but the other half that brings new elements (and monsters) to the story and infuses a “bullying” subplot just didn’t work. It feels as though Frankenweenie is at odds with itself; it’s as if two separate movies and stories have been awkwardly stitched together and brought to life in some kind of fashion reminiscent of… of… some horror story. I forget the name.
I don’t want to dissuade anyone from seeing the movie though, especially if you haven’t seen the original Disney short-film it is based on. It’s still good. Sparky, the dog (or as I like to call him, just Frankenweenie) is crazy adorable and worth the price of admission alone. His initial death and his bond with owner, Victor, are the biggest strengths of the movie. Set against the white and black backdrop of a small, stiflingly traditional town, the movie explores an effective story about being an outsider, standing up for what’s right, and finding friends in difficult circumstances.
The film isn’t on the level of Nightmare Before Christmas, but it is still a nicely atmospheric animated film that takes audiences back in time to when B-horror movies reigned supreme. Odd pacing and a mishmash story toward the middle of the movie detract from the films strengths, but Sparky constantly keeps the movie fun. I prefer the original live-action short as the definitive Frankenweenie story, but you should still see this new adaptation.
ParaNorman (dir. Sam Fell, Chris Butler)
Laika, the creators of Coraline, have done it again. A mix of Dawn of the Dead and Hocus Pocus, I can see ParaNorman turning into a Halloween classic for the current generation. Norman, like Vincent in Frankenweenie, is a bit of an outsider with a bully problem. Unlike Vincent, who is a mad scientist genius, Norman is an outsider because he can speak to the dead, and he constantly sees ghosts all around him. When an old witch’s curse threatens to destroy his town, it’s up to Norman to figure out how the heck to deal with a sudden zombie infestation. The film has plenty of surprising scares and gross-out moments which kids will dig. I was surrounded by an audience full of them when I saw the movie, and they went nuts at these moments. The stop-motion animation style is fun and exaggerated, and the CGI is top-notch. ParaNorman, which is chock-full of fantastical, colorful visuals, sits in stark contrast to Frankenweenie, so if you’re looking for some eye candy, go check out this movie.
For kids, ParaNorman will be great. For the older set, it’s still highly enjoyable and nostalgic, but it’s perhaps a little to familiar and formulaic. Even though the movie is fun to sit through, you know exactly where the plot is going and what moments are going to happen well before they actually do. Because of that, the film can feel slow at a few points, but the film quickly throws in an over-the-heads-of-kids joke or visually stunning set-piece to remedy that.
If you’re picking between the two films above, I’d have to recommend ParaNorman just slightly more. But both films are great Halloween treats, especially if you aren’t the Paranormal Activity or Silent Hill type of movie fan.
Be safe with your Halloween plans, friends! Let me know what YOUR favorite Halloween movies are in the comments!