Tim Burton brings his career full circle with this feature-length adaptation of the animated short that was his first release. Shot in glorious black-and-white (in homage to James Whale’s 1930s Frankenstein movies), the movie centers on Victor Frankenstein, here a suburban kid who harnesses lightning to reanimate his beloved dead dachshund, Sparky.
Victor is a smart and talented kid — in an apt touch, the movie begins with Victor’s own 3D stop-motion animated home movie, a monster mini-epic featuring Sparky as its Godzilla-like hero — but those qualities also make him an outcast with no friends, like many a Burton protagonist. The film is full of witty visual and aural references to past Burton features (notably, Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, and Sleepy Hollow), as well as allusions to the classic monster movies Burton watched as a child.
Once Sparky gets loose, of course, all the other kids want reanimated pets, and soon the town is overrun with monstrous misfit creatures. But Frankenweenie is actually a sweet story despite its often ghoulish trappings, like many Burton movies — in this case, a story of just how far a lonely and misunderstood kid will go to preserve a friendship. According to Disney, Frankenweenie was the first black-and-white movie and the first stop-motion animated movie to be presented in the giant-screen IMAX format.