Movie review: Frankenweenie

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From the October 4, 2012 edition

It’s about time Tim Burton returned to his roots! All he had to do was, umm, return to his roots.

Keep in mind, this is a director coming off back-to-back misses that seemed right in his wheelhouse (“Dark Shadows” and “Alice in Wonderland”).

But Burton’s stop-motion animated revisiting of his 1984 short film “Frankenweenie” has everything I love about Burton. It’s weird, it’s dark, but it’s also got whimsy and heart.

Young Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) is a socially awkward science geek whose best friend is his dog Sparky.

When Sparky is hit and killed by a car — sad, but tastefully handled offscreen — Victor attempts to resurrect Sparky through science.

The playfulness of this movie hearkens all the way back to Burton’s “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” — still my favorite of his early works — and I think this tops “Corpse Bride” and even “The Nightmare Before Christmas” as the best Burton-involved animated film.

There’s also a nice mix of funhouse-style scares — fun, jumpy stuff, nothing too intense for most kids. This actually makes for a pretty great Halloween season date movie, too.

“Frankenweenie” is gloriously shot in black-and-white, perfect for the throwback monster movie feel (although parents of hyperactive kids might want to know they won’t be getting a color bath).

There’s also great voice work, not only from Tahan in the lead. Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara play Victor’s parents — and various other characters. And Martin Landeau channels his “Ed Wood” Bela Lugosi as an eccentric science teacher.

Let’s hope Tim Burton’s resurrection continues to his next films!