Tim Burton returns to familiar ground in this delightfully oddball animated feature

Also opening this week:

• Les Misérables ★★½



Directed by Tim Burton. Starring Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Atticus Shaffer, Martin Landau, Martin Short, Christopher Lee, Conchata Ferrell, Tom Kenny, Charlie Tahan, James Hiroyuki Liao. Written by John August, based on the short film written by Leonard Ripps from an idea by Tim Burton.

Note: unlike most animated features, Frankenweenie is screening only in its original (undubbed) English-language version in Prague cinemas (in both 2D and 3D). Below review refers to the 2D version.

Tim Burton has returned to familiar ground in Frankenweenie, a gorgeously animated feature-length version of his (live-action) 1984 short of the same name about a young boy’s attempt to bring his beloved pet back from the grave. Deliciously oddball, with numerous references to classic horror movie motifs, this is a real pleasure for any animation or classic movie fan.

But do note: it’s not really for kids, not just because of its dark and creepy atmosphere but because it spares little detail in dealing with the death of a pet and grieving process afterward. (The original short got Burton fired from Disney for being “too scary” for family audiences.)

Teenage Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) loves making homemade monster movies starring Sparky, his bull terrier; the opening of the film features a terrific moviemaking sequence that lovingly recreates the process of stop-motion animation used in making this movie.

When Sparky is hit by a car, Victor is devastated; but taking a cue from his science class (taught by a Vincent Price-based character voiced by Martin Landau), he attempts to bring him back to life with the aid of electricity. It works, to some degree, but not fully understanding the science behind it, future complications ensue…

Frankenweenie was originally a 29-minute short with roughly the same plot, so screenwriter John August has had to pad things out a bit for this 87-minute feature. That includes a number of quirky side characters who help add some additional development to the story, and a wonderful monster movie climax.

The voice cast is excellent, particularly Catharine O’Hara and Martin Short, who play Victor’s parents among other roles; Short’s Nick Nolte impersonation as the villainous Mr. Burgemeister is especially fun. Winona Ryder lends a voice to Elsa Van Helsing, Victor’s sympathetic neighbor and classmate.

One quibble: the ending of the film, while consistent with the earlier short, doesn’t really jibe with the message of the movie. A darker ending, however, might just have been too much to take.

2012 was the year of stop-motion animation, with The Pirates! Band of Misfits, Paranorman, and now Frankenweenie all ribald successes. These films represent the kind of highs that mainstream animation rarely reaches; one hopes this is the beginning of a trend, even as Madagascar and Ice Age sequels, among other CGI animated films, continue to dominate the box office.

Burton has really returned to his roots in Frankenweenie, which not only takes the story from his 1984 live-action feature, but also the animation style of his earlier stop-motion short, Vincent. A love for moviemaking is clearly evident in the final product, which I had a great time watching.

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