At the very start of this stop-motion animation, Tim Burton gets to turn the iconic Disneyland castle that opens their every movie into a dark gothic mansion. This must have been a moment of sweet revenge.
Some three decades ago, Burton was sacked from his job in the animation department at Disney for making a 30-minute live action short called Frankenweenie about a kid who brings his dog back to life after it is killed in a car accident.
Now, of course, Burton's the conquering hero, having improbably turned himself into one of the most successful directors of the last 25 years and having generated over a billion dollars for Disney with his Alice In Wonderland.
The prospect of Burton returning to Frankenweenie was one to be greeted with enthusiasm, but not wild enthusiasm. After Alice and Dark Shadows, it was reassuring that this would be more or less guaranteed to be good, but tempered by a sense of this predictability – you almost knew what the film would be like before you saw it.
And for the first half Frankenweenie is exactly that low- budget short film made large. It has more sophisticated versions of the pipe cleaner figures familiar from Burton's other animations and the fairytale mix of sweet and ghoulish that is his trademark. Somewhere in the second half it begins to gather its own momentum, breaks free of the polite restraints and displays the kind of manic comic energy Burton hasn't harnessed since Mars Attacks.
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The novelty of family-friendly horror animation has been blunted by recent films such as ParaNorman and Hotel Transylvania, but this film creates a much more potent landscape – a typical Spielberg suburbia remoulded in the colours and shapes of a 1930s Universal horror film. It's a place where the Frankensteins are everyday family and the science teacher resembles Vincent Price.
Black and white are odd shades for rejuvenation but taking away his colour has done wonders for Burton. Apart from Sweeney Todd, his films over the last decade seemed to have been slowly seizing up under the weight of accumulated baggage.
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Here, without Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter or much expectation of commercial success, he is himself again. It is a film to remind you why you once loved this film-maker in the first place.
FRANKENWEENIE 3D (PG)
Director: Tim Burton
Featuring: Charlie Tahan, Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Winona Ryder and Martin Landau
Length: 87 mins