Let's take a trip back to 1984. Up-and-coming talent Tim Burton has just completed FRANKENWEENIE, a live-action dark comedy short, for the Walt Disney organisation. After viewing the finished movie, Disney executives promptly fire Burton from the company, for allegedly wasting company resources on a film "too scary for young audiences".
Fast forward thirtyish years and ironically we find that it's Disney itself that has greenlighted a full-length, stop-motion FRANKENWEENIE remake. The saying goes that time heals all wounds but the staggering mountain of box-office dollars generated by Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND can't have hurt.
FRANKENWEENIE starts off in less-than-promising fashion, with a young Victor Frankenstein witnessing his beloved dog Sparky being fatally injured in a road accident. Sparky is buried in the local pet cemetery and Victor is inconsolable. Then Vic finds unexpected inspiration in science teacher Mr Rzykruski's lessons - specifically the one demonstrating how dead frogs can be reanimated with bursts of electricity. Sparky's corpse is secretly dug up, patched up and hooked up to electrodes in Victor's bedroom laboratory. A convenient thunderstorm provides the necessary electrical charge and before you can say "the walkies dead", Sparky is magically restored to life...
Fortunately, Burton handles what could easily have been a tasteless subject with consideration and subtlety. His love of '50s SF and horror films shines through, with plenty of nods and references to classic monster movies...as well as his own. There's a fair amount of NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS and ED WOOD cinematic DNA in FRANKENWEENIE - not to mention a cast of voices peppered with alumni from earlier Burton films: Martin Landau, Winona Ryder, Catherine O'Hara. The luminous black-and-white photography is outstanding and the stop-motion animation top-notch.
FRANKENWEENIE has been converted during post-production into 3D. It doesn't distract from the experience but it doesn't add anything either - funnily enough, much like the 3D effect in ALICE IN WONDERLAND.
It has to be said, however, that there is an unfortunate flaw with this movie. And it's one I can't discuss in detail, as it concerns the end of the film. I'll only say that there IS a suitable ending within the film - but Burton undermines it by letting the film carry on for a couple of minutes more.
Despite its fumbled conclusion, FRANKENWEENIE is still a hugely entertaining and classy family film. If there's any justice, Sparky and friends will land an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Film next year.