Two new animated offerings—Frankenweenie and Hotel Transylvania—pay homage to classic Hollywood monsters with fresh interpretations and plenty of panache—just in time for Halloween.
This touching tale about a boy and his dog—presented with a distinctive Tim Burton twist—premieres in theaters on October 5. Frankenweenie (PG), from Walt Disney Pictures, is based on director/producer Burton’s own 1984 live-action short of the same title. Filmed in atmospheric black and white, this 3-D stop-motion-animated feature blends classic monster movie elements with quirky humor, creepy-looking characters and settings, and deftly explored themes.
Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) is a clever and creative 10-year-old with a passion for science. When Sparky, his cherished pet and constant companion, is tragically killed in an accident, the boy is devastated. Inspired by a new science teacher, Victor comes up with a brilliant plan to bring his pooch (now stitched together but still compellingly cute) back to life. Though he tries to keep his accomplishment a secret, word soon gets out—with monstrous consequences for his fellow students and the entire town.
Fans of Frankenstein (1931) and other old-school standards will be entertained by the film’s numerous references and playful parodies. For example, Victor’s new teacher (voiced by Martin Landau) bears a striking resemblance to Vincent Price; one of his classmates, Edgar “E” Gore (Atticus Shaffer), echoes the appearance and ineptitude of his namesake; and Elsa van Helsing (Winona Ryder), the likable girl-next-door, owns a poodle that—after a shocking reunion with the souped-up Sparky—ends up with a Bride of Frankenstein bouffant.
Kids can visit the movie’s website to meet the flamboyantly spooky characters, watch trailers and video clips, and play a science-experiment-themed game. A click on one of the “360 Set Tours” takes viewers behind the scenes to find out more about the stop-motion animation process, listen to commentary from the movie’s makers, and use their mouse to browse around a stage set (designated hot spots link to interesting tidbits).
Disney Press has published two tie-in titles that will grab film fans with stylish movie-poster-style covers. Frankenweenie: A Cinematic Storybook (K-Gr 4) retells the plot highlights and provides clearly reproduced double-page movie photos. Consisting of short sentences and straightforward language and presented in a large-size font, the narrative could be shared aloud or tackled by beginning readers with a bit of experience. Graphics that look like stitches frame the illustrations and the text, echoing Sparky’s sutured-up appearance after re-animation. Filled with gritty textures, dramatic shadows, and expressive character close-ups, the images are well-chosen to convey the emotional ups and downs of the story.
Based on the movie screenplay, Elizabeth Rudnick’s novelization (Gr 3-6) delves more deeply into the details of the story. The specifics of Victor’s character—his enthusiasm for dreaming up and cobbling together contraptions, his interest in science, the fact that Sparky is really his only friend—are clearly established before tragedy strikes (as is the town’s proclivity for attracting regular lightning strikes). Once his experiment is a success, Victor must try to keep Sparky’s reappearance a secret from everyone, including his parents and a bunch of competitive classmates desperate to come up with a killer science fair project. As his adventures unfold, the pace picks up and keeps on rolling right up to the fun—and back-from-the-dead monster-filled—climax. Sprinkled throughout with dialogue, the narrative is lively and clearly written. The text is printed in white on black pages, adding to the eerie ambiance, and the chapters begin with white silhouettes of the various re-animated critters (a mummy hamster, were-rat, vampire cat, and more). Film fans will enjoy revisiting the plot and the characters.
Scheduled for release on September 28, this 3-D computer animated comedy from Sony Pictures is the first feature to be directed by Genndy Tartakovsky, the creative force behind Star Wars: Clone Wars, Dexter’s Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, and other popular TV cartoon series.
Dracula (voiced by Adam Sandler) runs Hotel Transylvania (PG), a secluded resort where monsters and their families can relax and get away from it all (particularly those irritating humans). To commemorate the 118th birthday of his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez), a teenager in vampire terms, he invites some of the world’s most famous fiends for a weekend celebration—Frankenstein and his bride (Kevin James and Fran Drescher), Quasimodo (Jon Lovitz), the Invisible Man (David Spade), a werewolf (Steve Buscemi), Murray the Mummy (CeeLo Green), and many more. However, the guest list most definitely does not include regular-guy Jonathan (Andy Samberg), a personable backpacker who happens upon the hotel and ends up falling head over heels for Mavis, to the great dismay of the overprotective Dracula. What’s a father to do? Youngsters can visit the official website to watch videos, meet the characters, tour the hotel, and sample a large selection of online games.
Incorporating a surprisingly bright selection of colors and featuring a cast of cleverly imagined monsters, the film makes a powerful visual impact. Kids can step behind the scenes and take a closer look by perusing Tracey Miller-Zarneke’s lushly illustrated The Art and Making of Hotel Transylvania (Titan, 2012; Gr 6 Up). The well-written text incorporates numerous quotes from the movie’s creators, emphasizing important themes and underscoring the underlying artistic vision. A lengthy section focuses on character design (the challenges of creating new versions of familiar monsters and finding the “balance between the expected and unexpected”) and how the various the interpretations evolved over time (Dracula “went through more rounds of development work than there are bats in a belfry”).
Production design is also treated with descriptions of the various sets and props, and discussion of differentiating between how the two main environments—monster and human—through the use of shape, texture, and palette. More than 400 clearly reproduced illustrations, including concept art, character sketches, storyboards, digital scenes, models, and movie images, are showcased on attractively designed spreads, ready to inspire kids who love to draw. A good mix of eye candy and production info, this handsome volume will appeal to monster fans, artists, and up-and-coming filmmakers.
MACRI, Thomas. Frankenweenie: A Cinematic Storybook. Disney Pr. 2012. pap. $9.99. ISBN 978-142318017-3.
RUDNICK, Elizabeth, adapt. Frankenweenie. Disney Pr. 2012. Tr $16.99. ISBN 978-142315376-4.
MILLER-ZARNEKE, Tracey. The Art and Making of Hotel Transylvania. Titan Bks. 2012. Tr $34.95. ISBN 9781781164150.
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