As All Hallow’s Eve approaches with the relentless speed and purpose of a Zack Snyder zombie, the need for candy, costumes and scary movies increases exponentially. Family-friendly spookiness to share with the kids is particularly key, and while the recently released ParaNorman would suffice in a pinch, it is with great pleasure and relief that I can instead herald the arrival of an instantly classic animated offering destined to become a staple of all future Halloweens.
If the name’s at all familiar, you’ve probably perused the special features of your Nightmare Before Christmas DVD and discovered the live action, black and white short shot by Tim Burton in 1984, immediately prior to making his feature length debut with Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. The short but strangely sweet tale of a pint-sized Frankenstein who shocks his beloved pet pooch back to life, it was the last in a series of shorts that heralded the arrival of a unique talent.
Three decades later, give or take, the world’s more widely familiar with the wacky, gothic stylings of Master Tim, and for those of you who consider yourself admirers of the man, as I do, Frankenweenie is an absolute joy.
Though expanded from the original tale, the core plot remains the same, the key addition being a logical escalation of events that sees a host of Victor’s classmates likewise reanimating a menagerie of creatures that aren’t quite as friendly as walking dead dog Sparky.
The most obvious difference between the original short and Burton’s new work of wonder is that it’s stop-motion animated, rather wonderfully in fact, with tremendous character and genuine strangeness and an attention to weird detail that renders it utterly unmissable.
What’s more, and this is really the detail I love the best, like the vintage Universal monster movies it’s so lovingly paying homage to, it’s in beautiful black and white. Sporting a colour scheme outside of most people’s cinematic comfort zone, if it can inspire even a fraction of its audience to seek out and appreciate old movies, it’ll be worth its weight in gold.
Written with an ear for oddness and packed to the gills with pricelessly peculiar characters, Frankenweenie is strange and funny and smart and full of heart, lushly wrapped in a grandly ghoulish orchestral score by Burton regular Danny Elfman. Coupled with a champion voice cast that includes such distinguished former Burtonians as Winona Ryder and Martin Landau, there’s really no end to the pleasures of this magical movie. It is almost the equal, and I can think of no higher praise, of The Nightmare Before Christmas, my all-time favourite film.