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Originally published October 4, 2012 at 12:04 AM | Page modified October 4, 2012 at 12:12 PM

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'Frankenweenie': Tim Burton stitches together a weird, sweet film

Tim Burton's "Frankenweenie," with the voices of Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau and others, is a gruesome charmer in animated black-and-white 3D that finds a delicate balance, as Burton so often does, between weird and sweet, writes Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'Frankenweenie,' with the voices of Catherine O'Hara, Martin Short, Martin Landau, Charlie Tahan, Atticus Shaffer, Robert Capron, Conchata Ferrell, Winona Ryder. Directed by Tim Burton, from a screenplay by John August, based on a screenplay by Lenny Ripps and an original idea by Burton. 87 minutes. Rated PG for thematic elements, scary images and action. Several theaters.

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MOVIE REVIEW 3 stars

Tim Burton's gruesome charmer "Frankenweenie" was born 28 years ago, presumably on a dark and stormy night. Then a young animator working at Walt Disney Studios, Burton envisioned a story about a suburban 10-year-old boy named Victor (last name Frankenstein, of course) who loves scientific experiments and his beloved dog, Sparky.

When Sparky is killed in a car accident, a grieving Victor figures out how to bring him back — with results both alarming and heartwarming.

Though Burton originally planned the 1984 "Frankenweenie" to be an animated film, it was eventually made as a live- action short film, about 30 minutes long, in black and white. Many have seen it as a DVD extra packaged with "The Nightmare Before Christmas."

Now decades later, Burton's finally remade "Frankenweenie" as a full-length, black-and-white 3D animated film — a little creepier and darker than the original (which was already fairly dark), but with its heart mostly intact. Or, you might say, stitched together.

The new "Frankenweenie" carefully expands the original story, bringing new detail to the characters (particularly the kids at Victor's school, and a very Vincent Price-ish science teacher) and adding plenty of monster-movie touches and sly references for the grown-ups, such as a turtle named after "Frankenstein" author Mary Shelley.)

Sparky the dog looks exactly as Victor drew him in the original, while sadly doodling in class: a long-nosed, uncannily happy-looking terrier, still sweet-natured and eager despite the bolts and jagged stitches holding him together — which have an unfortunate tendency to spring leaks.

The human characters all look thoroughly Burtonesque: long, spindly legs; elaborate hair; grotesquely exaggerated body shapes. One of the kids is a hunchback; another, a saucer-eyed blonde named in the credits as Weird Girl, constantly carries around a terrified-looking cat. The poodle next door sports a beehive hairdo, immediately familiar to many a monster-movie fan.

Burton was right to capture this shadowy tale in black-and-white. Less necessary is the 3D, which doesn't seem to make much impact.

Parents will want to think carefully before bringing young children, as this movie has some genuinely creepy scenes and could well be the stuff of nightmares. But older kids, horror-movie buffs and Burton fans will likely enjoy this oddly gentle tale of a boy and his dog.

"You will always be in my heart," Victor sadly tells a quiet Sparky, and it's as moving a moment as I've seen this year — finding a delicate balance, as Burton so often does, between weird and sweet.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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