*** (out of four)
A Disney movie preceded by commercials for new Disney Channel efforts “Girl vs. Monster” and “Dog with a Blog” doesn't suggest the studio’s overflowing with innovative ideas. Especially when the movie, “Frankenweenie,” finds director Tim Burton returning to a tale he already told in 1984—albeit now through 3-D, stop-motion animation and extending a half-hour story to feature length.
What a relief, then, that the new, black-and-white “Frankenweenie” springs to life with more inspiration than Burton, lately on auto-pilot with efforts like “Dark Shadows” and “Alice in Wonderland,” has offered in years. In the original “Frankenweenie,” Victor Frankenstein (Barret Oliver) had friends. Now the young science whiz (voiced by Charlie Tahan of “Charlie St. Cloud”) doesn’t, but he still uses electricity—in the form of lightning this time—to revive his beloved pooch Sparky after the little guy chases a baseball into the street and gets hit by a car. Post-reanimation, Sparky’s elaborate stitching makes him look somewhat like a baseball himself, save for the bolts in his neck.
This four-legged salute to Mary Shelley’s classic story clearly was destined for animated re-imagination, allowing for oddities like Mr. Whiskers. He’s a cat who, according to his glassy-eyed young owner (voiced by Catherine O’Hara, who also tackles Victor’s mom and a gym teacher), dreams about a person whenever something big is about to happen to them. Martin Landau (an Oscar winner for Burton’s “Ed Wood”) brilliantly voices science teacher Mr. Rzykruski, who looks and sounds a lot scarier than he is.
Even at an hour longer, “Frankenweenie” remains small. Nodding to “Bride of Frankenstein,” “Godzilla” and more, frequent Burton collaborator John August’s script generates more smiles than laughs.
The movie’s still a better, sweeter entry point for talking to youngsters about death than “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” even if “Frankenweenie” should come with a note saying, “Do not try this at home.” Credit Burton for inadvertently inspiring some now-scientifically inclined kids to do the opposite.
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