American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
In 1984, Tim Burton launched his career with a live-action short named "Frankenweenie," and now he returns to that material for the new "Frankenweenie," a stop-motion, black-and-white animated comedy inspired by "The Bride of Frankenstein" and countless other classic horror films in which science runs amok.
The story takes place in a familiar Burtonesque world of characters with balloon heads, saucer eyes and pretzel limbs. Seeing them in b&w only underlines their grotesquerie, and indeed the whole story benefits from the absence of color, because this is a stark world without many soothing tones. Burton uses a stop-motion animation method employing puppets, and I learn from Variety that he employed "about 33 animators working to produce five seconds of film per week apiece." Amazing that such a lively film took such laborious piecework.
The story involves young Victor Frankenstein (voice of Charlie Tahan) and his dog Sparky, who is not nearly as smart as Uggie the dog in "The Artist." Sparky is one of those dogs who is way too affectionate and eager to please, but Victor loves him and is heartbroken when Sparky runs into the street and is blindsided by a car. Victor buries his poor dead mutt under a grim tombstone in one of those horror movie cemeteries where you imagine the flowers would be in b&w even if the movie wasn't.
Victor's science teacher is Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau) who looks and sounds like an elongated Vincent Price. If you wonder how his voice can sound elongated, apply here. The next day at school he puts his students to work applying electrical charges to the nerves of dead frogs, which makes their legs twitch. This brought back strong memories of my own frog dissections. When you make a list of things you learned in school and have never needed to use since, don't forget the dead frogs.