It begins with the familiar sight of the Disney castle. Then – with a crack of thunder – the candy-coloured palace turns into a monochrome haunted house. Before the film itself has even begun, Frankenweenie shows Tim Burton’s power to subvert. The film is based on the 1984 short that saw Burton fired from Disney. Now, extended to feature length and rendered in painstaking stop motion animation, Burton is not just back in the bosom of the corporation, but allowed to corrupt one of its most potently pukey symbols.
Frankenweenie tells the tale of Victor Frankenstein, a weird kid who looks suspiciously like a young, spindly Tim Burton. Frankenstein lives in a weird pocket of picket-fence America, where his classroom is full of goths and thunderstorms are a nightly occurrence. Unable to get over the death of his beloved dog, Sparky, he undertakes an experiment to reanimate his pet that soon spirals out of control.
Funny, sweet and genuinely moving, the film has great voice performances from Atticus Shaffer (aka The Middle’s Brick) as classmate Edgar “E” Gore and Winona Ryder as Elsa van Helsing – still able to pull off a sulky teenager role at 40. Most of all, it’s a love letter to the horror movies that Burton absorbed as a child – it’s full of knowing nods to Hammer Horror and Universal monsters, and is even shot in retro-futuristic black and white digital 3D.
The big question, therefore, is whether Frankenweenie will connect with its target audience. Children today grow up in a world in which vampires are shimmering sex symbols with “issues”, not badger-haired men with capes and fangs. Let’s hope kids can see past it: in a time in which animated movies are suffering the ripple effect of Pixar’s great success and anodyne, computer-animated animal funnies rule, Frankenweenie is a brilliantly weird, brilliantly crafted film with a great story at its heart.