In 1984, a relatively unknown Tim Burton created the 30-minute short "Frankenweenie." It was a loving -- and quite creepy -- tale of a young boy who takes a page from Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" when his dog is hit by a car and dies.
A few zaps of lightning later and the past pooch is alive and scratching.
The boy and his dog element gave the short film warmth and sincerity that fit tightly into the 30-minute package. Even the odd elements worked because of the sweet central themes.
Burton has expanded his original film into a feature-length production and while the new "Frankenweenie" has the same powerful message about love and loyalty, it's diluted by the monsterfest elements added to increase the running time.
This is a perfect case of more not always being better.
The elements that are the genius of Burton are all there. As he did with "Edward Scissorhands," Burton strips away some of the shine of suburbia to show the darker side that lurks below. There is his fascination with life and death that has popped up in his "Corpse Bride." And there is Burton's macabre interest in life after death, a driving theme of "Beetlejuice."
It's as if the original "Frankenweenie" is a microcosm of themes Burton's examined in all of his other movies. As long as the film focuses on those elements, "Frankenweenie" is a thrills-and-chills ride brought to life through Burton's quirky artistic style. Even in black and white, every scene is a splash of visual splendor.
But there is also a disconcerting lack of a time and place -- in some parts this looks like a wink and nod to the late '50s when B-grade horror movie ruled, but then there are contemporary references. The contrasts are too jarring to make the film feel timeless.
The voice talents -- particularly Martin Landau and Catherine O'Hara -- are dead on.
But the work gets buried under the expanded screenplay by John August, which is based on Burton's original concept. Many scenes are frame-for-frame recreations. But when the movie shifts gears in the middle to include versions of "Godzilla" and "Gremlins," the purity of the story gets tainted. This version's alive, but the added scenes suck out the life.
At its core, "Frankenweenie" is still a great example of the weird and twisted mind of Burton. It's just a shame that the material sewn on to the original corpse ends up a bit of a monster mashup that feels lifeless and familiar.
"Frankenweenie," rated PG for scary images. Stars the voices of Charlie Tahan, Martin Landau, Winona Ryder, Martin Short, Catherine O'Hara, Atticus Shaffer. Directed by Tim Burton. Running time: 1 hour, 27 minutes. Grade: B Theaters and times for this movie | Other movie reviews
TV and movie critic Rick Bentley can be reached at (559) 441-6355, email@example.com
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