“When you lose someone you love they never really leave you.” These are the comforting words parents say to their kids when a beloved pet or grandparent dies. Leave it to the twisted mind of Tim Burton to take it one step further in “Frankenweenie,” his latest stop-motion animated film, about a boy and his dead dog.
The story takes place in the small town of New Holland, the kind of place with nosy neighbors and a line in the official town song about “modest homes at modest prices.” Look just beyond the perfectly manicured lawns, however, and you’ll find goth kids with creepy names like Victor Frankenstein, (voiced by Charlie Tahan), his parents (voiced by Catherine O’Hara & Martin Short) and dog Sparky. When Sparky is unexpectedly killed, Victor takes his mother’s platitude to heart—the “never leave you” part anyway—digs up his pet and brings him back to life using a method he learned in science class. He’s thrilled to have Sparky back, but will his parents and friends be as happy?
Reanimating corpses is not exactly the subject of kid’s films… unless you’re Tim Burton, who takes a horror premise and turns it into a touching and funny family story about a lonely boy and his best friend. The climax may be too intense for small kids, so judge your child’s tolerance for giant Sea Monkeys and some mild action before shelling out for tickets for the whole family.
Using gorgeous black-and-white and 3D Burton has crafted visuals that would make James Whale proud. No detail is too small or too strange for the director’s eye, from the beautiful set design to the homages to “Gamera” and “An American Werewolf in London.”
All the macabre elements of good old fashioned horror movies are represented—mobs with torches, lightening strikes bringing dead things back to life—but underneath it all is a great deal of heart, something that has been missing from Burton’s recent blockbuster work. “Frankenweenie” feels more personal, and because of the stop-motion animation, handmade. Kids may not get the “Bride of Frankenstein” gag, but they’ll love the look of the film.
Good voice work from Burton’s “Beetlejuice” cast members O’Hara and Wynona Ryder with “Ed Wood’s” Martin Landau chiming in and new comers like Short, Tahan and Atticus Shaffer bring the ghoulish puppets to life, animating them with personality.
Tim Burton has been trying to make “Frankenweenie” for a long time. It first saw life as a Disney short way back in 1984, and has definitely been worth the wait.