Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) likes to make home movies in his spare time, all shot on his Super 8 camera and starring his pet dog Sparky, who usually plays the hero. He shows his latest three minute epic to his parents (Catherine O'Hara and Martin Short) and they are very impressed, but as Victor goes upstairs to bed his father voices his worries that his son might be a bit of an oddball and wishes he would take up a normal, sporting pursuit with his friends. His mother points out that she doesn't think Victor has any friends, unless you count Sparky, the best pal a boy could have...
So it's unthinkable that Sparky could be taken away from him, right? Apparently director Tim Burton thought so, having made Frankenweenie not once but twice, the first time as a live action short which effectively had him "let go" from Disney because they didn't think it was the sort of thing they should be promoting, so how ironic was it that they welcomed him back with open arms to craft the remake, this time in stop motion animation as his previous cult classics The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride had been? Funnily enough somebody must have been taking notes after those two, because almost simultaneously for Halloween 2012 this, Hotel Transylvania and ParaNorman were released.
Or maybe they were all big fans of sixties stop motion favourite Mad Monster Party? which appeared to be a major influence. Whatever, at least two of that trio were about as satisfying a horror animation for the whole family, but mostly horror-loving kids of any age, as could have been expected, and with Burton more seasoned in this field you could have anticipated he would be the man to catch if there were pretenders to his style. You might have been right about that, because while there may have been the yeah, yeah, seen it all before brigade declaiming Burton's plots and characters, this was actually an excellent opening up of a short that had been brief but seemingly as much as you could do with its concept.
That concept, as the title indicated, of bringing dead pets back to life, brought to the screen with a surprising seriousness for once poor old Sparky comes off worst in an unfortunate collision with a passing car, Victor grows obsessed with the idea that death is not the end. Inspired by his new science teacher (Martin Landau dusting off his Bela Lugosi accent for some sterling work), he hits upon the notion of reviving his deceased pooch with a bolt of lightning, and thus one of the main homages - to James Whale's Frankenstein - gets underway with the attic transformed into a laboratory. Naturally (well, unnaturally) the scheme works like a dream, and soon a stitched back together Sparky is alive and kicking, not that Victor wants to reveal his success to the wider world, apparently recognising he has broken the laws of science.
That's important, because science was a theme here, and how it can be misunderstood, treated with idiotic suspicion, yet also misused when it gets into the wrong hands. Those wrong hands belong to Victor's classmates who refreshingly for this sort of affair are not a bunch of high school jocks and cheerleaders, but a bunch of weirdos like him and keen to prove themselves at the science fair. Once Vic's Igor-alike acquaintance blackmails him into sharing his secret, it's the cue for the movie to go into homage overdrive, and horror fans of every vintage will relish the references to everything from An American Werewolf in London and Gremlins to Gamera and The Mummy. This was no nerdy checklist but a true celebration of the genre, and that the whole thing resembled a goofy take on Stephen King's novel Pet Sematary was part of the fun. With animation lovingly rendered in classical black and white and Burton reunited with O'Hara and Winona Ryder, it was a celebration of his oeuvre as well. Respectful music by Danny Elfman.
American director, producer and writer, frequently of Gothic flavoured fantasy who has acquired a cult following in spite of the huge mainstream success of many of his projects. He began as an animator at Disney, who allowed him to work on his own projects while animating the likes of The Fox and the Hound, which garnered the attention of Paul Reubens to direct Pee Wee's Big Adventure.