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All that is unique and wonderful about the films of Tim Burton can be traced back to "Frankenweenie," a half-hour-long black-and-white live-action short he made while an animator for Disney. The studio, unimpressed, promptly fired him; they thought the movie was too scary for kids. Apparently they had forgotten their own traumatizing Bambi (1942). But nearly 30 years later, Frankenweenie remains Burton's urtext, and his new full-length version fulfills its promise.

>> READ: "Review: Frankenweenie" by Peter Keough <<

The short springs from the grief, horror, and irrational hope every child feels after losing a pet. Here, young Victor Frankenstein watches his beloved bull terrier Sparky turn into roadkill. But he's determined to bring him back, so Victor digs him up, and puts together a jerry-built device like that of his namesake in James Whale's 1931 Frankenstein. Lightning strikes, Sparky lives, but then the two must face a foe more powerful than death: social disapproval.

Though it is perfunctorily acted, the short's contrast of sunny streets and a spooky graveyard establish Burton's mastery of mood and setting. The themes are those that appear in all his best films: loss, a quest, deviation and ostracism, the almost funny weirdness of mortality and corruption. And most important, the persistence of innocence and imagination in the face of despair.

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