I'm not one who worships at the altar of Tim Burton, probably disliking his films as often as I am moved by them. For every effort as emotionally rich as Sweeney Todd, there's something as flat and wankish as Dark Shadows.
But I fell hard for Frankenweenie, an extrapolation of a short film Burton made almost 30 years ago, just before he directed Pee-wee's Big Adventure and launched himself. This stop-motion animation film (in black and white) is dazzlingly dark -- and darkly comic.
Of course, it's not funny when young Victor's dog, Sparky, dies early on in Frankenweenie -- and I didn't say "spoiler alert" because, well, this is a comedy about a dog brought back from the dead. So the dog has to die.
But it's the blend of physical and visual comedy that heightens suspense that makes Frankenweenie soar. It has heart but it's both smart and knowing.
Victor's last name happens to be Frankenstein and he's a happy if introverted tween who spends his time making solitary miniature monster movies in his bedroom, using his dog Sparky as the makeshift dinosaur creature. Victor's dad (voiced by Martin Short) wishes Victor would go outdoors and play baseball -- which he does, leading indirectly to Sparky being hit by a car.
But when Victor's fascinating and brilliant science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau), demonstrates the ways electricity can be used to reanimate lifeless flesh, young Victor is inspired. He builds a device to hoist Sparky's lifeless corpse (which he has retrieved from its grave) into the sky, where it will attract lightning in a storm. Which does, in fact, zap Sparky back to yappy, happy life.
This review continues on my website.