Tim Burton spawns another abnormal creation in puppet form to stand alongside Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas. Frankenweenie is a wonderfully, gleefully ghoulish fairytale, fleshed out from his 1984 short film, about a boy who resurrects his dead dog.
Charlie Tahan lends his voice to young Victor Frankenstein who lives in a monochrome, Burtonesque suburb populated by what look like refuges from the set of an old B-movie horror flick. Other than that Victor is a fairly typical science geek whose other great love is his pet Sparky, a mischievous little mutt who ends up eating asphalt when he runs into the road one day.
Death is, of course, one of Burton's favourite subjects, a dark and mysterious thing to poke fun at with a childlike fascination that lends itself completely to this format. But Victor cannot accept the finality. In a stealth mission he digs up the canine carcass - trailed by his shadow - and manages to resurrect him in patchwork with his own secret formula and a dash of lightning.
But even youngsters are bound to be tickled by the sheer weirdness of it all, perfectly embodied by one of Victor's classmates (Catherine O'Hara), a hypnotically goggle-eyed psychic.
Via her fluffy cat, she foresees some kind of impending doom, but the tension does dissipate slightly in the middle as Victor's other classmates intervene to uncover his secret and steal the formula. It doesn't matter though, because the characters are so gorgeously crafted and grotesquely funny, like little Edward E Gore (Igor, geddit?) breathily voiced by teenager Atticus Shaffer.
The kids stand up well against a veteran cast that includes Martin Landau (as the booming science teacher), Martin Short and Burton's old muse Winona Ryder as the glum girl next door. The way the characters move – with spidery limbs in flickering motion – adds to the eeriness, but the CG finish means this doesn't have the same quaintly homemade feel of Burton's previous puppet features.
He does give this one a suitably epic feel, however, with a richly textured landscape photographed in varying shades of black-and-white. He makes best use of the widescreen canvas towards the thrilling end when the formula is leaked and sparks a rampage of mutant pets across town, cleverly evoking monster flicks from Godzilla to Gremlins.
There are witty lines, but this isn't the type of animated caper that relies on wisecracks. The humour is in the homages and not in a way that's self-satisfied or exclusive. On the contrary, the sense of fun is infectious and at its core this is a simple tale of friendship that warms your heart, even as it chills the spine.
Photo gallery - BFI London Film Festival 2012 in pictures: