Review: Burton revisits roots in 'Frankenweenie'
This film image released by Disney shows Victor Frankenstein, voiced by Charlie Tahan, with Sparky, in a scene from "Frankenweenie." (AP Photo/Disney)
Tim Burton reminds us of why we love Tim Burton with "Frankenweenie," a feature-length version of the 1984 short that revealed early glimmers of the veteran director's darkly humorous style.
Beautifully detailed and painstakingly rendered in 3-D, black-and-white, stop-motion animation, "Frankenweenie" is a visual and thematic return to the best Burton has offered in his earliest films, such as "Edward Scissorhands" and "Beetlejuice." And it is a welcome return, given the reheated, unfocused nature of some of his more recent films like "Dark Shadows."
Burton has said he'd always intended for "Frankenweenie" to be a full-length, stop-motion-animation feature, but he didn't have the means; instead, he made a 30-minute, live-action short featuring Shelley Duvall, Daniel Stern and a young Sofia Coppola (credited as "Domino"). Both films are about the powerful bond between a boy and his dog, one that goes on even after death — a heartrending subject, to be sure, but one that Burton infuses with his trademark mix of lively energy and macabre laughs.
Even then, you could see Burton's sympathetic, protective portrayal of an outsider, an affectionate skewering of the sanctity of suburbia and a deep love of monster movies.
Along those lines, this animated version begins the exact same way as the original: with a 10-year-old boy projecting his latest makeshift horror flick for his parents in the living room. Young Victor ("Charlie St. Cloud" co-star Charlie Tahan) is a loner: a smart, quiet kid whose only real friend is his bubbly bull terrier, Sparky. His mom and dad (voiced by Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short, two of the many Burton alumni at work here) encourage him to take part in sports and school activities. His next-door neighbor, Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder), the niece of the town's persnickety mayor (also Short), is his somber, kindred spirit.
This film image released by Disney shows Edgar "E" Gore, voiced by Atticus Shaffer in a scene from "Frankenweenie." (AP Photo/Disney)
Then one day, Sparky runs into the street to chase a ball and gets hit by a car. Victor is understandably devastated. But then he gets an idea while studying the effects of electricity in science class: He could bring Sparky back to life. Martin Landau, who was so great as Bela Lugosi in Burton's "Ed Wood," plays the teacher, Mr. Rzykruski, a fearsome figure with a comically heavy Eastern European accent who is, in actuality, an inspiring, forward-thinking force in his students' lives.