Inspired by Mary Shelley, gothic visionary Tim Burton resurrects his 1984 live action short to create a full-blown animated monster. When his beloved dog Sparky meets an untimely end, madly inventive schoolboy Victor Frankenstein uses all his scientific know-how to bring him back to life. But as the school science fair approaches, word of Victor's secret spreads to his classmates and soon the town is swarming with re-animated abominations. Filmed in glorious black-and-white and paying homage to more horror classics than you can shake a burning stick at, Burton's stop-motion creation has so much energy it's almost ALIIIIVE!
As the third major horror-inspired animation of late 2012 (after ParaNorman and Hotel Transylvania) and Tim Burton's third foray into stop-motion ghoulishness (after The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride), you might anticipate Frankenweenie as a case of flogging a dead horse - or dog.
But don't. Because not only did Burton get this idea first (filming it as a short in 1984 with The Shining's Shelley Duvall and the kid from The NeverEnding Story), he's now made it the first animated feature to be shot entirely in black-and-white.
Of course Mary Shelley had the original idea a couple of centuries ago and it's been seen in countless forms since, most memorably in the 1931 Universal picture that forms Burton's template here.
While spending most of his time making movies and inventing stuff, there's nothing young Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) loves more than his faithful mutt Sparky.
His dad thinks he should get out more. But compared to the rest of the kids in his class, Victor is freakishly normal.
Sadly, it's Victor's willingness to please his dad - and get one over on his pathologically competitive classmate Toshiaki - that turns his greatest sporting moment into Sparky's last.
Driven by grief and the scientific zeal of new teacher Mr Rzykruski (modelled on Vincent Price and magnificently voiced by Martin Landau), Victor reclaims his best friend's body, rewires his attic laboratory, and, come the next thunderstorm (a nightly occurrence in this town), Sparky is back... Albeit not exactly in one piece.
Unfortunately, you can't keep an undead dog down. So when a blackmailer spills the beans, it's not long before the rest of the class get wind of Victor's experiment and set about reanimating their own projects for the upcoming science fair.
The combination of cool animation and morbid larks guarantees that most kids will be on this like maggots on a corpse. But beware potential heeby-jeebies, as there's nothing cute about the were-rats, vampire cats, mega-turtles, mummified hamsters and other abominations that Burton and his animators unleash.
Of greater concern is the quantity over quality approach to the human characters, meaning that for every scene stealer like Landau's crazy Rzykruski and Peter Lorre-esque sneak Edgar 'E' Gore (voiced by Atticus Shaffer), there's a surplus squib like Winona Ryder's goth-girl next door and her uncle, the town's blustering mayor.
Visually, however, Frankenweenie provides an embarrassment of riches. The homages are especially clever, Burton covering every monster movie base from Universal's horror heyday and the Japanese kaiju cult that spawned the likes of Godzilla to one-off wonders like An American Werewolf In London and Gremlins.
Ultimately, any misgivings are far from grave... and animation lovers will certainly rest in peace.