DVD Release Date: January 8, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: October 5, 2012
Rating: PG for thematic elements, scary images and action
Genre: Drama
Run Time: 87 min.
Director: Tim Burton
Actors: Voices of Charlie Tahan, Martin Landau, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, Winona Ryder

In 1989, former Disney animator Don Bluth wrote and directed a film that suggested All Dogs Go to Heaven. Twenty-three years later, Bluth's former studio has given director Tim Burton (Sweeney Todd) a chance to tell his own tale of animal afterlife with Frankenweenie, the story of a boy, his canine best friend, and the lengths he’ll go to maintain that relationship with unanticipated results.

It’s a strange animated tale—a remake of a live-action short film Burton directed before he became a major studio filmmaker—that doesn’t reinvent the wheel in terms of animation or storytelling, but which has its share of amusing moments. However, it’s too dark thematically, and at times frightening, for young children.

Victor Frankenstein (voice of Charlie Tahan, Charlie St. Cloud) lives with his loving parents (Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short) in the town of New Holland (known for "modest homes at modest prices"). He spends his days surrounded by strange classmates and under the tutelage of a spooky science teacher, Mr. Rzykruski (Martin Landau, The Majestic), who has a deep passion for his subject.

Victor, no social butterfly, is closest to his pet dog, Sparky. When a tragic accident ends Sparky’s life, Victor is crushed. But a class demonstration by Mr. Rzykruski showing that dead animal limbs can still respond to electric current gives Victor an idea. Soon he’s setting up a contraption in the family attic that, with the help of a thunderstorm and a well-placed lightning strike, returns Sparky to life, chipper despite some stitches.

Victor’s joy at their reunion is tempered by his need to hide the resurrected Sparky from parents and neighbors. Sure enough, once a classmate catches on to what’s happened, Victor is forced to share his newfound method of reanimating animals. Soon all manner of dead pets are roaming the town, unleashing destruction.

This being a Burton movie, you can bet that the story’s scariest element won’t be anything supernatural, strange or even undead. Instead, it’s Victor’s friends and neighbors who are portrayed as scary. They can’t abide any semblance of nonconformity. Such attitudes are the great sin in Burton’s stories.

Burton has told several tales of social outcasts and judgmental authority figures (Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Edward Scissorhands, Alice in Wonderland), and Frankenweenie is no exception. But earlier Burton tales have also leaned on cardboard caricatures of religious zealots. This time the villains aren’t primarily religious; they’re just nervous—suspicious and fearful of things they don’t understand (then again, who wouldn’t overreact to giant pets stampeding through the neighborhood?). Nor does Burton go the easy route of pitting all of his story’s young characters against all of the older characters. Some of Victor’s classmates are creepy and unhinged, while some of the adults, particularly Mr. Rzykruski, are heroic in their passion for learning and teaching. A late line in which an adult character confesses to Victor that "sometimes adults don't know what they're talking about" is a sop to younger viewers, but it’s the exception, not the rule, in Frankenweenie.