THE 1984 SHORT Frankenweenie is one of my favorite Tim Burton films: It's devoted to the Universal Studios monster films without being slavish, it has a great cast (come back from whatever purgatory you've been enslaved in, Shelley Duvall), and it has enough heart and style to rival Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands. And now, in the golden age of Hollywood remakes, Burton's revisited Frankenweenie with a stop-motion feature that expands on the original. It's pretty, if a bit humorless—but nonetheless, put this one in the "good" column of Burton's polarizing output.
The plot points follow the original short film's black-and-white retelling of the classic 1931 Frankenstein, as young Victor Frankenstein (voiced by Charlie Tahan) loses his beloved dog Sparky—but realizes that through the power of electricity, he can restore life to his canine. So in grand set-piece fashion, a kiddie version of the iconic laboratory is set up in the Frankensteins' suburban attic, lightning is captured, and the bolt-necked Sparky is brought back to life. But it's when Frankenweenie moves past its simple setup that the new film starts to show some real spark—when Victor's creepy classmates vie for the coveted science fair award with necromancer projects of their own, the ensuing monster mash is delightful.
Still, and even with all of Burton's painstaking homage, this stop-motion film lacks life—it's a little mopey, full of one-note melancholy children whose collective ennui doesn't complement Victor's stoic passion to resurrect his dog. It's not all dour—there are plenty of fun and sweet moments, an adorable Franken-bull-terrier, and enough visual gags to stuff a ravenous were-rat—but considering it's a movie about bringing dead things to life, Frankenweenie should be livelier.