Ultimate Disney Tournament: Frankenweenie vs. Midnight Madness

Hiya folks. Welcome back to Dyl’s Ultimate Disney Tournament. Sorry for the delay. I’m right dab in the middle of two extended weekends and have honestly been feeling kind of lazy lately. We’ll bounce back after this weekend though, I promise.

Today’s match-up is an interesting one. We’ve got #113 – Frankenweenie vs. #144 – Midnight Madness. Both are super unique to the Disney canon and worth talking about. So, without further ado, let’s jump into it.

#113 – Frankenweenie (2012)

Director: Tim Burton

Writer: John August

Starring: Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan, Atticus Shaffer, Winona Ryder, and Frank Welker

Plot: Inspired by his science teacher, a boy brings his deceased dog back to life. 

Review: In the early 1980s, a young animator named Tim Burton was working for Disney. He started to make shorts of his own. They were darker and creepier than your usual Disney fare. As a result, his works were not widely promoted by the company. His first was shown only at a film festival for two weeks. The next aired once on Halloween at 10:30 p.m. on Disney Channel. Then, came Frankenweenie, a horror parody about a young boy, resurrecting his dead dog. The plan was to show it before the re-release of The Jungle Book or Pinocchio. Instead, the movie was shelved and Burton was fired. Disney was mad that their money was spent making something so frightening for children. Of course, this didn’t last. Burton hit it big with classics like Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, and the Batman franchise. His creepy style was all the rage. And, Disney started working with him again on The Nightmare Before Christmas. Four collaborations and over a billion dollars box office earnings later, they were ready to re-tackle Frankenweenie. This time it’d be a stop-motion animated feature in the same vein as Nightmare. So, was all of this controversy worth it? Is this movie worth the almost 30 years of hype? Is Burton, indeed, too dark for Disney? Well, yes and no. I’ve got very mixed feelings on Frankenweenie. There are some things I really like and others I’m just not a fan of.

The first time I saw Frankenweenie I hated it. To be frank, there were a couple of Tim Burton bombs right before it, including two of my least favorites in his filmography (more about that later). I very much had Burton fatigue at the time. I remember seeing the creepy, big-eyed girl, the dead dog, and some of the other grotesque town people and immediately checking out. I didn’t really give it that fair of a shot. That’s a shame, because I had an overall pleasant experience with it this time. Sure, that stuff still bothered me. It’s like Burton is being creepy just to be creepy. I liked the short’s community better, because they felt like real people. It felt like what Burton did really well early on in his career. It was every day, suburban, mid-upper class snobs versus your oddballs and weirdos. In this version, everyone felt weird. Also, the short felt very punctual. There was no wasting time. There was no excess fat. This feels like they really, really had to stretch it out to reach 90 minutes. And, I didn’t really care for a lot of the extra content for most of the runtime. 

I will say, however, that this has a terrific third act. It makes sitting through the rest of the movie worth it. There are so many homages to the Frankenstein lore and other iconic horror films. I really, really ended up enjoying myself. Burton is like Tarantino in the sense that he wears his influences on his sleeves. You know exactly why he fell in love with moviemaking. In that sense, this is the most Burton movie ever made. It’s a love letter to old-timey Hollywood. And, a damn fun one at that. I can’t really hold too many faults I had against the first two-thirds of the movie against it when I know it’s all leading to this. Maybe the first time I watched it I wasn’t enough of a horror guy yet. I don’t know. But, modern me smiled a lot rewatching this. 

Lastly, the animation is freaking gorgeous. I’ve always been a fan of stop-motion animation as an artform. I think it brings out the most creative side of filmmakers. Frankenweenie is a perfect example of that. In fact, if I didn’t know better, I would think it was all done by a computer. It’s that good. The character designs are a bit questionable but everything else looks great. The characters all move super fluidly. They have an impressive range of motions and expressions. The backgrounds are detailed. And, the black and white color scheme perfectly captures the monster movie feel. Overall, it’s a beautiful movie. 

So, I definitely think I was too hard on Frankenweenie the first time I saw it. Is it one of Burton’s best? Nah. How about Disney? Is it one of their best? Spoilers, but no. However, it’s not the worst I’ve seen by either of them (or both of them working together for that matter) either. In fact, it’s pretty good. The animation is gorgeous. The premise is fun. And, that final act is super entertaining. I’d definitely recommend it to any Burton fans or fans of old-timey Universal horror flicks. The more into those you are, the more you’ll enjoy Frankenweenie.

#144 – Midnight Madness (1980)

Director: Michael Nankin and David Wechter

Writers: Michael Nankin and David Wechter

Starring: David Naughton, Michael J. Fox, Stephen Furst, Maggie Roswell, Eddie Deezen, Dirk Blocker, Debra Clinger, and Brad Wilkin

Plot: College kids participate in an all-night race/scavenger hunt across the city of Los Angeles. 

Review: You know what’s a classic genre? The college party comedy. Everyone loves them. College kids like to use them for party ideas. Older folks relive their glory days through them. And, kids, well, they like to see boobs and get a taste of what it’s like to be an “adult.” From Animal House to Old School to Pitch Perfect, it’s a tried and true formula. You get some attractive college kids (early 30s works too since it’s Hollywood), throw in some beer, some sex, and boom. You’ve got yourself a hit. But, you know who should never, ever, in a million years, make a college frat movie? Disney: a name synonymous with family entertainment. Well, that’s exactly what they did in 1980 with Midnight Madness and… it’s bad. There’s no way around it. It’s really, really bad. 

“Wait. Did Disney make an R-rated movie in 1980?” I can hear you asking. No. They did not. Midnight Madness was rated PG. Of course, this was still a stretch for the studio. They’d only made one PG movie before then. But, as you can imagine, the rating is what really bogs down the movie the most. They make reference to spying on changing girls and binge drinking and even drugs. But, all of those punches are severely pulled. Imagine watching a Disney Channel cut of Harold and Kumar. That’s more or less what you’re getting here. Still, I can’t help but gawk at the fact that this even exists. Who greenlit this? Someone at Disney actually visited Pabst Blue Ribbon to negotiate product placement. That’s a real thing that happened. No wonder Eisner had to save Disney. 

While the pulled punches definitely didn’t help Midnight Madness, I’m not sure it would be considered a classic even if it were as raunchy and R-rated as it wanted to be. Why? Because it’s also just an absolutely horrid movie. Each and every one of the characters is a weird stereotype. No one really acts like this. The dumb characters are unrealistically stupid to the point that they wouldn’t even be able to function in normal society. The portrayal of the nerds is so over the top that they make Crispin Glover’s George McFly from Back to the Future look normal and nuanced. And, there’s these two girls (the joke is that their fat, but let’s not talk about that) that have this stupid, annoying dolphin laugh over everything they do. It seriously never stops. It had to have been dubbed over too, because the actors definitely weren’t doing that in the moment. Seriously, background Looney Tune characters have more realistic personalities than a lot of the ones featured here. To top it all of they’re each brought to life with Razzie worthy performances. God, I hate so much of this movie.

Come on, Dylan. Say something nice. Anything… Alright. Honestly, the main group wasn’t too bad. They actually had some decent characters and a few engaging story beats. I’m guessing it’s no coincidence that it’s also the only group with any recognizable actor names. If the movie was about only them, it may have been decent. 

So, overall, I have no choice but to call Midnight Madness an absolute 100% failure. It’s completely unfunny, boring, and super strange. It’s probably definitely the worst movie I’ve seen for this bracket so far. The only hope I have now is that the memory of it doesn’t last too long. I don’t see that as being a problem though. It’s already fading fast. 

I’m not going to lie. I don’t even want to type up the Disney smackdown for this movie…

The Disney Movie Smackdown

This is where we quickly compare the movies against metrics that almost all Disney movies meet. It won’t necessarily determine the winner, but it will help break some stuff down into a nice digestible format.

Our Heroes: Our hero in Frankenweenie is Victor Frankenstein. He’s kind of your typical Tim Burton stand-in. He’s tall and lanky. He’s a loner, who doesn’t fit in anywhere. He’s passionate about his obsessions. And,although he’s willing to dip his toes into the macabre, you can tell that Victor is still a good kid. He only wants to bring his dog back. Once the other kids start using him for their own selfish reasons, you can tell he gets very uncomfortable. Like I said, if you’ve seen enough Burton flicks, you know this character already. He’s Edward Scissorhands or Ichabod Crane or Ed Wood. Heck, he even looks like the dude from Corpse Bride. This type of character is kind of a Tim Burton specialty. 

While it’s definitely an ensemble film, I guess if I had to pick anyone to name as the lead in Midnight Madness it’d be Adam Larson. He seems like a good guy. He’s a guidance counselor for freshmen, who always tells them they should chase after their dreams. The only real flaw he has is that he doesn’t like his little brother, but that’s eventually solved. Other than that, you don’t really get to know the guy all that well. This isn’t really a character-driven movie. It’s more about the adventure and the gags. 

Victor is the more complex and interesting character, giving Frankenweenie the win here.

Our Beloved Side Characters: Because he’s a bit of an outcast, Frankenweenie doesn’t actually feature that many characters that are on Victor’s side. We, of course, have Sparky. He’s Victor’s dog and, I guess, the titular Frankenweenie. He’s absolutely adorable in the way that all cartoon dogs are. You can see why Victor would want to bring him back. He’s also super brave, saving Victor’s life while potentially sacrificing his own. He’s such a good boy. I liked him a lot. Then, there’s Victor’s parents, Ben and Susan Frankenstein. They are super loving, but also a little too controlling. They just want their son to go outside and make some friends. It’s a relatable child-parent relationship. Also, the dad is voiced by Martin Short, so that makes him instantly likable in my book. Then, we’ve got Victor’s crush/neighbor Elsa Van Helsing. If Victor is your typical Burton boy, she’s your typical Burton girl 150%. Just think Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice and you’re pretty much there. She’s even voiced by Winona, which is weird because she’s supposed to be like 11. And, lastly, we’ve got Mr. Rzykruski, Victor’s science teacher. I really liked this character. He’s super supportive of Victor’s passion and ends up taking the fall for him. Plus, there’s a really great moment where he practically insults the whole town during a conference with the parents. It’s really entertaining. I wish we got to spend more time with him.

Ok. I’m going to be frank here. Midnight Madness features a whole lot of secondary characters. I don’t feel like doing a deep dive into each of them and almost none of them warrant it. Instead, I’ll just barely touch on the notable ones. There’s Laura, Adam’s love interest. She’s cool and seems down to help Adam be the best person he can be. There’s Flynch. He’s probably the character that evolves the most throughout the movie, turning from a shy nerd into a confident ladies man. He’s probably the best character. Then, we have Scott Larson. He’s Adam’s little brother. It’s no wonder Adam hates him. He’s played by Michael J. Fox but is pretty much the opposite of Marty McFly. He’s very whiney and irresponsible. Disney made me dislike a character played by Christopher Lloyd in Angels in the Outfield and now one by Fox in this? Shame. The last member of Adam’s team is Marvin. He’s the token black guy. I’m not even sure if he ever contributes to the plot at all, but he’s there. On the red team, we’ve got Donna. I think she’s supposed to be stuck up? I don’t know. Like I said, not a lot of time for characters here, especially those not on Adam’s team. There’s also Peggy and Lulu. They’re the annoying ones I wrote about in the review. I hated these characters and their stupid laugh. Speaking of characters I hate, Wesley was the leader of the white team. He’s the nerd. That’s all they really give you. But, he’s maybe the worst nerd stereotype I’ve ever seen and that’s saying a lot. And, worst of all, his whole team is exactly like him. They didn’t even try to give these guys distinct personalities. It’s all major cringe. And, then there’s the jocks on the green team. I hated these guys too. They were stereotypical douchebag jocks. The only one I can even remember anything about is Blaylak, who is such a raging alcoholic that he couldn’t even take a tour of the Pabst factory without diving into the vat. Oh, and then there’s Leon who runs the game. He seems like a pompous ass. I didn’t like a moment he was on the screen. Just way overly full of himself with maybe my least favorite actor ever playing him. Screw that guy. Ok. That’s enough. Can I never think of these characters again, please? Thanks.

Can you guess? This win goes to Frankenweenie as well, just for having less hateable characters.

Villainous Villains: An argument could be made that the only real villains in Frankenweenie are the creatures towards the end of the movie. They don’t agree that the people I’m going to claim as villains have cruel intent. And, while I can see that point to a certain degree, these are all still terrible people who tried to hurt Victor and Sparky. That makes them the villains in my eyes. First of all, there’s Mr. Burgermeister. He’s the mayor of the town, who is super against science, Victor, and Sparky. He spends the whole movie just as grumpy as can be. And, in the end, he’s the one that leads the mob against Sparky. He’s honestly the worst. Then, there’s the kids who took advantage of Victor’s experiment and tried to replicate it for their own benefit. There’s Edgar, who figured out that Sparky was brought back and used it to try and make friends, despite telling Victor he’d keep it secret. He’s honestly responsible for every complication in the plot from that point forward. If I had to name just one villain for this movie, it’d be him. The other classmates aren’t as awful but still problematic. There’s Weird Girl. Honestly, this character is Burton at his worst. She’s just weird to be weird and creepy to be creepy. She has this weird psychic connection to her cat. I don’t know. I hate this character. I honestly blame her for ruining the movie for me upon my first viewing. Moving on. Then, there’s Nassor. He’s honestly probably my favorite of the kids. I love that he’s so blunt and rude. He made me laugh quite often. And, then for the one that looks like Boris Karloff to be the one responsible for the Mummy-like creature? *Chef kiss.* Perfection. I can’t say the same for Toshiaki though. I get where they were coming from by having the Japanese kid responsible for the Godzilla-esque creature, but it just felt wrong. This felt like a stereotype. I’m sure that Burton meant no harm but this character is offensive. It’s weird to see this type of character in a 2012 movie. Finally, there’s Bob. Bob is another Burton cliche: the fat, scared kid in stripes. He’s the one that gets Mr. Rzykruski fired, so screw him. Also, the creatures are insanely cool, but we’ll get to them in a sec.

The main villains of Midnight Madness are members of the blue team. Leading that team is Harold. He’s like the definition of a cliched ‘80s bully. He’s big. He’s fat. He’s borderline homicidal. I guess there’s an ongoing joke about how he just eats and eats and eats, but it’s not very funny. He’s more or less just another character that just got on my nerves. Speaking of, his friend Melio may be my new least favorite character ever to appear in a movie. I absolutely despised every single second this guy was on screen. I wanted to punch him. His mocking voice and his super dumb laugh just got on my nerves. I’ve not been this annoyed by a character in a very long time. The only other character on the team worth mentioning is Harold’s nagging girlfriend, Lucille. That’s all there really is to say about her though. Then, on Leon’s case, we’ve got his landlady Mrs. Grimhaus, who wants to shut down the game for being too noisy. If you’ve seen a sitcom with the grumpy, old neighbor, you’ve seen this character. And, of course, it’s played up to the tenth degree because that’s just what this movie does. And, finally, we’ve got the security captain at the hotel. Now, this might just be a case of bad timing, but watching a cop-like figure use excessive force on a bunch of college kids just trying to play a game isn’t really what I wanted to see right now. Like I said, probably just bad timing though. Actually, nah, screw it. It’s just another bad character in this trainwreck of a movie.

Frankenweenie gets this point as well. I’ll always remember Edgar. I can’t say the same for anybody from Midnight Madness.

Quotable Quotes: From Frankenweenie: “They like what science gives them, but not the questions, no. Not the questions science asks.” “When you lose someone you love they move into a special place in your heart.” “Sometimes adults don’t know what they’re talking about.” “Science is not good or bad, Victor. But it can be used both ways. That is why you must always be careful.”

From Midnight Madness: “Fagabeefe.” “If I’m lucky, I may get to see Venus’ two moons.”

Is it just me or are the quotes from Frankenweenie actually kind of deep? Unlike the super shallow everything from Midnight Madness.

Songs to Add to Your Playlist: As far as I can tell, there is no original music in Frankenweenie other than the score.

Midnight Madness has a disco theme song. It’s honestly better than the movie and has been stuck in my head for a day now. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s the only thing that sticks with me past a week.

Hey, look! I finally complimented Midnight Madness… kind of.

Most Magical Disney Moment: As I’ve alluded to several times, I love the third act climax of Frankenweenie. All of the kids have each created their monstrosities and they’ve escaped to terrorize the town. Luckily, there’s an easy place for all of them to gather: the annual Dutch Day celebration. What follows is a true monster mash. There’s references to Frankenstein (obviously), the Wolfman, the Mummy, Gremlins, and Godzilla. All in one. Seriously, this scene is jam packed with references. The movie drags a bit in the beginning but it really pays off here. Plus, the ways the kids find to take down the monsters are incredibly entertaining. And, it’s 100% a reflection on who Tim Burton is. No other filmmaker could have done this quite as well. It’s not only Disney magic. It’s Burton magic as well. 

Like I said, Midnight Madness is about as un-Disney as Disney gets. So, as far as magical moments go, they’re few and far between. I guess I’ll just go with my favorite moment instead then. After Leon’s clues lead them there, the jocks pull up on the Pabst Blue Ribbon factory. What follows, while obvious product placement, is one of the funnier scenes in the movie. The team gathers around and stares up at the building as if they’re seeing heaven for the first time. Plus, it leads to a guy binge drinking and Michael J. Fox trying to sneak some underage alcohol. How often do you see that in a Disney movie? 

I mean… it’s gotta be Frankenweenie‘s win here, right?

Legacies: The legacy of Frankenweenie is good, but not super lasting. It has a 70% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.9 on IMDB. The movie wasn’t a huge box office success, barely making twice it’s budget. It was nominated for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award, but lost to Brave. During Christmastime, when the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland becomes A Nightmare Before Christmas themed, there is a small reference to the film in the pet sematary. There you can see Sparky’s recently dug up grave. Other than that, there’s not much reference to this movie in Disney Parks or really the company in general. It’s mainly remembered as kind of a burying of the hatchet for Disney and Burton. Even though they’d long since made up, this was seen as the ultimate sign of respect between the two. So, definitely not a bad legacy for Frankenweenie.

Midnight Madness’ legacy is, well, strange. It has no score on Rotten Tomatoes (not enough reviews, though they’re all negative) and a 6.4 on IMDB. It was a pretty big box office bomb, costing Disney millions. However, it later gained a cult following after being shown repeatedly on HBO. It’s barely recognized by the company though, probably because of it’s very un-Disney subject matter. In fact, when it was first released, the name Disney didn’t appear on any of the marketing. It was only added when the movie went to VHS. There are two rather big lasting effects brought on by the movie though. A number of competitions semi-based on the film take place annually around the U.S. including one among Disneyland cast members. And, it was the first movie to feature Michael J. Fox who went on to become a bit of an icon of the ‘80s. Other than that though, this is more or less a failed attempt to branch out for the company that’s probably left forgotten. 

I’m going to give the better legacy to Frankenweenie as well. The reviews on it alone were too good to ignore.

AND THE WINNER IS…

FRANKENWEENIE

This one really, really wan’t all that difficult. It was a movie I enjoyed against one I absolutely hated. Now, if I hadn’t revisited Frankenweenie, we might be in a different situation. But, that’s why I do what I do.

So, congratulations, Victor, Sparky, and the gang! You move on to fight another day!

Thank you all for once again joining me. Sorry again for the delay. I’m going to try and do better. Maybe that means I need to schedule breaks for myself. I don’t know. We’ll see. Unfortunately, it’s going to be a couple days until my next post as well. I’m going out of town for a long weekend with friends. But, when I come back, I hope to be refreshed and better than ever. Good thing too, because we come back to two Disney classics. It’s Dumbo (1941) vs. Herbie Rides Again! It should be a good one!

See you then!

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