Tim Burton’s tale of loss and creation Frankenweenie was a favorite for many children who grew up watching it on the Disney Channel in the mid-eighties to early-nineties.  The 1984 black and white short starring Barrett Oliver (from NeverEnding Story fame) as an aspiring monster movie filmmaker who brings his beloved bull terrier back from the dead is a classic. Launching Burton’s Hollywood career it seems natural that Burton return to this material, this time in the animation stop motion of The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride. Adapting the 29-minute short into a full-length feature it turns out is one of the best and most nostalgic of Burton’s films to come out in years. Perhaps returning to his roots was the best thing that has happened to this filmmaker in a while.

Taking off from Frankenstein and countless other horror films it’s the story of Victor (voiced by Charlie St. Cloud’s Charlie Tahan), an aspiring inventor, and moviemaker who has an inseparable bond with his dog Sparky. Mrs. Frankenstein (Catherine O’Hara) encourages Victor’s individuality and eccentric creative projects, while Mr. Frankenstein (Martin Short) wants to get him to get involved in more physical activities. Mr. Frankenstein agrees to let Victor sign up for the school science fair only if he gives baseball a try. On the day of the big game Victor hits a home run.  A tied up Sparky gets loose and runs out into the street and getting hit by a car.  Devastated over the loss of his dog a grief stricken Victor brings Sparky back from the dead after being inspired by his science teacher (a delightful Martin Landau giving his best Bella Lugosi throwback) describing the power of electricity.

Ingeniously adapting the material is screenwriter John August, who’s no stranger to tackling literature for Burton with Big Fish, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. August wisely expands the universe of the short bringing memorable secondary characters into play with the addition of the neighborhood children, (one of these being Victor’s girl next door, and kindred spirit Elsa Van Helsing who’s voiced by Burton alum Winona Ryder), and various townsfolk. When word gets out of Victor’s science experiment by the hunchbacked ten-year-old named Edgar ‘E’ Gore all of his classmates try to outdo Victor by bringing back all their deceased pets to win the school science fair by using the same life altering power of electricity. Needless to say the creations don’t go over as smoothly as it did with Sparky, leading to a terrific third act.

The material works on many levels. At its heart it’s a story of the friendship, and bond we all share with our pets. The look of the film has everything that makes Burton’s film so special, with homages to the great horror classics. The themes of creation through power of science, and death might lead for interesting discussions for parents and their children. As with ParaNorman, another dark stop motion feature released last summer, this is a dark children’s movie that has some thought provoking messages for youngsters.

The stop motion animation has never looked better. It’s black and white palette compliments this Burtoneque cast of characters beautifully. It’s good to know that in the golden age of digital animation the art of stop motion still holds up. Frankenweenie is proof that Burton hasn’t lost his edge as one of the most important auteur directors working today, and reminds one of the rich universe his films can take its viewer.