Disney goes dark in this gothic, animated 3-D delight by the ever-imaginative Tim Burton. Adapted from the director’s 1984 live-action short, Frankenweenie is loaded with famous thriller-movie references — from the fabulous opening film-within-a-film to a clip from Dracula and a Vincent-Price-inspired character. The story quickly establishes the close bond between Victor and his dog Sparky. When the pooch unexpectedly bites the dust, the bereft child is struck — as if by lightning — with the idea to reanimate his pet, and he does so in a virtuoso sequence à la Frankenstein.
While the reignited Sparky isn’t seamless — some of his body parts tend to fall off — Frankenweenie is a solidly conceived blend of humor and horror that balances dry jokes (a pet-cemetery grave marked “Goodbye, Kitty”) with unsettling jolts (freaky hybrid mutant animals). The film is consistently clever and the exceptional animation is dazzling — it’s especially impressive to see how realistic the facial expressions are on the humans and animals. Frankenweenie also boasts a terrific pro-science outlook — when used for good instead of evil, of course. This film may not be entirely appropriate for younger viewers, but anyone with a dark heart will be thrilled.