Ever since Mars Attacks!, Tim Burton has been mostly in the adaptation business, rendering dark and becurlicued Sleepy Hollows and the like. With Frankenweenie, he adapts his own work—the first animated short he ever produced for a major film studio, and the one which semi-famously got him fired from Disney back in '84. Working for "the man" generally entails a minimum of originality, yet—for all his faults—Burton's vision is still unlike any other filmmaker's. In his films, introverts have access to bat caves, wonderlands, and the surprisingly comfortable interiors of giant peaches, all of which become the inner worlds of lonely people. It's remarkable that this entire sensibility sprang so fully formed in that original short. It's here, too. When his weenie dog Sparky is killed by a car, young Victor Frankenstein is inspired by his new science teacher to generate some impressive innovations in the untapped field of reanimation. Victor, voiced by Charlie Tahan, intends to submit his reassembled and electrically resurrected dog at his school's science fair, but he's actually motivated by a broken heart. The dog is great. Sparky isn't a cartoon character as much as a behaviorally accurate little canine, which is 10 times cuter than if the script had gone in a Dreamworks Animation direction, with, like, Ben Stiller voicing the dog, and then a song by Smash Mouth. Lenny Ripps' script, from Burton's original story, is tight and brief, hitting all the marks you'd expect from an animated kid's film, and it's all enlivened by Burton's visual style. The man should make more small movies like this one.
A boy and his dog.
Opens Fri., Oct. 5 at Varsity and other theaters. Rated PG. 85 minutes.