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(2012) (voices of Charlie Tahan, Atticus Shaffer) (PG)

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Animated Comedy/Horror: A boy must contend with the ramifications of bringing his dead dog back to life.
In the town of New Holland, Victor Frankenstein (voice of CHARLIE TAHAN) is an average kid who lives with his parents, Susan (voice of CATHERINE O'HARA) and Ben (voice of MARTIN SHORT), next door to classmate Elsa van Helsing (voice of WINONA RYDER) whose uncle, Mr. Bergermeister (voice of MARTIN SHORT) -- the town's stern mayor -- is watching her while her parents are away.

Victor has few friends and thus spends most of his time conducting science experiments and making movies, some of which star his beloved pet dog, Sparky. His dad, though, thinks Victor should be more involved with sports and thus has him join the baseball team. It's during one such game where Sparky runs out into the street after a home run ball and ends up being run over.

Victor is devastated, but gets an idea upon seeing science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (voice of MARTIN LANDAU) show that the muscles of dead animals can be activated via jolts of electricity. Accordingly, Victor digs up the remains of his dog, stitches them together, and in the tradition of his surname, reanimates Sparky who seems no wiser about his condition. Victor is overjoyed but also cautious and thus wants to keep his experiment and Sparky secret.

But the dog manages to get out and is seen by the school's Igor-like hunchback, Edgar (voice of ATTICUS SHAFFER), who immediately blackmails Victor into doing the experiment again with a dead fish. Edgar can't keep his mouth shut, however, and it's not long before classmates Toshiaki (voice of JAMES HIROYUKI LIAO), Nassor (voice of MARTIN SHORT) and Bob (voice of ROBERT CAPRON) learn of Victor's work.

As the school's science fair is coming up, they figure they can do the same to even bigger results. With the school's creepy student, Weird Girl (voice of CATHERINE O'HARA), joining in, it's not long before their related experiments have gone awry, with all running to Victor pleading for his help.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
I imagine it takes an awful lot to shock consumers of entertainment nowadays. After all, with the advent of home video and then the Internet, pretty much anything can be seen online somewhere. And with that and cable TV channels pushing the boundaries of what can be shown and said, regular TV, music, books and especially movies have responded by aggressively moving in that same direction in hopes of holding onto their audiences.

Even so, I often wonder what it was like to have seen the culture shock that resulted from Elvis gyrating his hips in the 1950s, the character from "The Great Train Robbery" shooting a pistol directly at viewers back at the turn of the 20th century, or a young Mary Shelley penning the 1818 reanimation novel "Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus."

The latter inspired many a writer and -- once cinema was invented -- filmmaker to craft similar tales of corpses brought back to life (including the most well-known adaptation, 1931's "Frankenstein" starring Boris Karloff as the monster), as well as spoofs such as "Young Frankenstein" and "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."

One filmmaker who was obviously inspired by the story was Tim Burton whose second short film, "Frankenweenie," was about a boy named Victor Frankenstein who brings his dead dog back to life following an unfortunate run-in with an automobile. The reportedly $1 million, 30 minute film from 1984 had studio heads thinking it was too scary for kids and the young filmmaker was subsequently fired.

Burton, of course, went on to quite a lucrative career making feature length films (including another Frankenstein related effort, "Edward Scissorhands") for the next several decades. Now he's come full circle back to Disney that's releasing his full-length, 3D and stop-motion animated version of the same tale, still called "Frankenweenie."

And while today's kids have seen a lot more than their mid 1980s counterparts, there are still moments that could prove unsettling or even downright scary to similarly aged children, at least if those at our preview screening were any indication. While they seemed okay with the notion of Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan) bringing his dead dog Sparky back to life, once a bunch of other critters follow suit but with unintended and monstrous consequences, the kids around me were audibly reacting, including some anxiously telling their parents they really wanted to get out of Dodge.

So, apparently the youngest of viewers can still be shocked, and adults might be shocked that Burton has actually turned out a decent flick once again after a spate of recent artistic misfires including "Dark Shadows," "Alice in Wonderland" and "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory." Apparently, returning to one's roots can do a filmmaker good, and the director -- working from scribe John August's expanded screenplay -- seems to be having a ball with his monster movie send-up that obviously focuses mostly on the old Frankenstein tale but also throws in references to many other classic monster movies.

For those not familiar with the original short, the far more expensive remake pretty much follows the same plotline, with Victor losing his beloved dog only to be inspired by his science teacher (voiced by Martin Landau and drawn to look like a Vincent Price character) and talk that electricity can cause dead muscles and tissue to move.

Accordingly, Victor sews up the pup, sends him up through an open skylight into a thunderstorm, and before one can say "Frau Blücher" old Sparky is wagging his reattached tail. But a creepy hunchback classmate (amusingly voiced by Atticus Shaffer) comes across the secret and can't keep his mouth shut, resulting in Victor's scientific discovery getting out. That's when all hell breaks loose (and the aforementioned kiddos start getting spooked) and the filmmaker starts to lose a bit of control. Thankfully, that doesn't completely derail the parody momentum or the overall project itself, but things begin to get a bit unwieldy the larger the scale starts to become.

Until then, it's a delightful, obviously loving and even occasionally touching bit of homage to classic monster flicks of old. The stop-motion animation is fabulous and the 3D nicely accentuates that, even in its black and white presentation. Filled with nice and imaginative touches for monster movie buffs, "Frankenweenie" might be stitched together from many sources, but it mostly holds together for its nearly 90 minutes up on the screen. It rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed September 18, 2012 / Posted October 5, 2012

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