Burton’s (re)animation is more than the sum of its parts

No Johnny Depp in sight.  No Helena Bonham Carter to speak of.

A screenplay adapted from nothing other than its writer’s own vivid imagination.

You could almost be forgiven for thinking Frankenweenie isn’t a Tim Burton film at all, given how ingrained his tropes have become.

But this is Burton at the most Burton-y he’s been in years: a big-hearted, blissfully detailed stop-motion ’toon, telling a tale of love and death and loneliness.

ParaNorman had wit and smarts, while Hotel Transylvania was arguably Adam Sandler’s most bearable effort in years.

But of the trio of ghoulish family animations released last year, Frankenweenie is the one that really embraces its own heart of darkness, and becomes all the more charming for it.

The death of Sparky, the beloved pooch reincarnated by his young owner Victor (Charlie Tahan), is abrupt and brutal - Frankenweenie doesn’t agree that children can’t handle real stakes.

Once he’s zombified, Sparky’s far from cartoon-cute: his too-gaping eyes and cross-stitched scars would send Disney merchandisers scurrying, but here only make him more loveable.

Burton packs depth into every lovingly crafted frame: one beautifully cinematic sequence set after Sparky’s death sees Victor’s desolate face remain static, as scenes change and the world moves on around him. As a compact expression of grief, it’s simple, specific and eloquent.

For anybody who (rightly) still regards Ed Wood as Burton’s best, the contribution of Martin Landau as science teacher Mr Rzykruski will be a highlight - not least because it’s so easy to imagine him instructing his rapt students to “PULL THE STRING!” à la Bela Lugosi - while Catherine O’Hara’s Weird Girl is the standout in a vibrant supporting ensemble.

But it’s Tahan’s understated, soulful vocals as Victor that gives Frankenweenie its intimacy. Here at last is the personal touch Burton’s been missing for so long, and all it took was a simple story: a misfit finding solace in the blurred line between science and magic.

Extras are skimpy, but Blu-ray does feature a double whammy of short film fun: Burton’s original 1984 Frankenweenie, and a brand-new Sparky story.

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