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Low voltage: “Frankenweenie”


It’s been almost 30 years since Tim Burton’s first Frankenweenie, a short film he directed while working as an animator at Disney. Two ironies there: Frankenweenie was live action, and Disney fired the aspiring director shortly thereafter, the urban legend being that he used House of Mouse resources to make a movie that could scare children.

So here’s Burton again, with a feature-length stop-motion 3-D update of Frankenweenie that Disney couldn’t be prouder to share with you. Funny how much cachet a billion-dollar Alice in Wonderland can buy you these days.

Beyond the backstory, however, there’s not much that truly stands out about Frankenweenie. It’s a little softer than the short film, although it might get under kids’ skins from time to time, and the stop-motion is really average. When there’s sudden movement, the effect sinks dramatically, with almost clumsy manipulation of the puppets.

Kid scientist Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) loves his dog Sparky more than anything. After the pooch is hit by a car, Victor experiments with electricity to bring Sparky back to life. It’s a fairly familiar story, of course, with even more hat tips to a genre that clearly influenced a young Tim Burton — a character named Elsa van Helsing (combining the iconic Bride of Frankenstein, Elsa Lanchester, with the equally iconic vampire hunter from Dracula), for example.

The story has more heart and imagination than the animation, and it was a great idea to employ Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara to voice multiple characters each, but that’s pretty much where the fun stops. The black-and-white cinematography, hearkening back to Burton’s original, is a misfire, and throughout, the film seems to be waiting for inspiration that never comes.

Also, what’s with the continued deep-tongue kissing in 3-D animated movies, Disney? It adds zero to the experience. Zero. So stop it. COLIN BOYD