Starring the voices of Charlie Tahan, Winona Ryder. Written by John August. Directed by Tim Burton. PG. 87 min. Opens Oct. 5.
Made in 1984, near the end of his troubled tenure with Disney, the live-action short version of Frankenweenie is an early preview of many of the preoccupations and predilections that would become associated with Tim Burton and his work. Everything is pretty much there in microcosmic form in the story of a boy named Victor who brings his beloved pooch back from the dead: the prominence of a child (or childlike) protagonist in a highly peculiar universe, the clear affection for vintage horror movies, the fastidious attention to detail and decor, and the creepy-kooky tone with a melancholy undercurrent.
Perhaps that’s why, for all the pleasures it provides as the latest of Burton’s excursions into the world of stop-motion animation, Frankenweenie’s newly expanded incarnation lacks a certain element of surprise. And while John August’s script may add a bit of clever business to the storyline, the result lacks some of the original’s vitality, as well as the greater sense of invention that distinguished Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas.
To be fair, those predecessors set some very high standards for Burton, and most viewers should forgive him for falling shy of the mark. The exquisite achievements of Burton’s animators are also exceptionally well-served by the voice performances of Charlie Tahan as the plucky Victor, Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara as his perplexed parents, and Winona Ryder as Elsa, the goth sweetie who lives next door (what’s a Tim Burton movie without one of those?). And Frankenweenie himself remains one of the director’s most purely joyful creations.
Sure, he might look a little worse for wear with his bolts and stitches, but who wouldn’t love
a creature that can wag his tail until it falls off his rump?