Director Tim Burton returns to his roots with this ooky-spooky stop-motion comedy. (The feature is stretched out and adapted from a short film Burton made as a student.) Fans of old-school Burton will cheer for his return to animated puppetry; a fascination with things that are dead (or not-quite-dead-yet); a gushing homage for classic horror films; and a gallery of amusing grotesques.
Loner kid Victor loves his playful terrier, Sparky, and after the dog is killed in an accident, Victor re-animates its corpse a la Dr. Frankenstein. Victor's success inspires other town kids to dig up their dead pets and bring them back to life, but in most cases, these "re-births" go horribly wrong. (Cat-bat, anyone?)
Occasionally, the story feels padded, but the gorgeous black-and-white animation should keep eyes on the screen. And frankly, this thin-and-silly story has more heart than Burton's more recent work. Fans of Universal should be in bliss spotting all the allusions to that studio's horror classics. There are also nods to Godzilla, actor Vincent Prince and other touchstones of retro-horror.
Anyone who's ever loved and lost a pet will feel Victor's joys and sorrows. (Some smaller kids may be upset by a couple of onscreen pet deaths, or rampaging zombie pets.) For my money, this is one of Burton's more enjoyable films in recent years, and I sure didn't miss Johnny Depp preening about. Little Sparky — with his tail that kept wagging off — stole the show.