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When Frankenweenie hit the theaters in October, my first viewing was a bit dismissive. Yes, it was fun, but it felt like it just hit the same beats of the old live-action short, and more of Tim Burton poring over his old obsessions.

But then I watched it on blu-ray with my children, and about fifteen minutes in, my son turned and asked "why do movies have to be so sad?" I started paying more attention. One one hand, Frankenweenie is a fun romp through the tropes of classic horror movies that a lot of kids actually haven't seen, but on the other, Burton taps into the ineffable sadness that can sometimes overtake a child. (But ultimately, overcomes it -- my son loved the film, maybe because of its wish fulfilment.)

As in the original short, Victor Frankenstein is an outsider, bullied by other children in his elementary school in New Holland. But look again -- just as every bullied kid wanted to suspect, all the children are outsiders. The adults might be "normal," but not a one of them is happy. And while some of the children do hang out together, most share a loss that even the most aggressive and assertive of them wants to fix -- those pets in the cemetery, that first silent confidante, whether it be a dog, hamster or turtle.

It's treated with macabre good humor, so it's not a depressing film overall. And besides, the sadness might get lost in Burton's other major theme of the importance of science and curiosity that comes down a little on the nose. But for the first time in decades, perhaps even since Pee Wee's Big Adventure, Burton isn't rehashing old obsessions. He's exploring where they came from in the first place.

In addition to a pristine transfer onto blu-ray, Disney's package includes a short -- very short -- animation continuing a throwaway from the beginning of the movie, that before becoming a junior mad scientist, Victor was a budding film director with Sparky as his leading man. It's cute, but as it clocks in at two minutes, it feels more like a deleted scene that just had no place in the narrative of the larger film.

The original short is also included (as it was also on The Nightmare Before Christmas), and while yes, the new film includes most of the same beats (and sometimes shots), watching the old just proves how much better Burton has gotten. Or maybe he had the leisure to strike the tone he really wanted; Daniel Stern's stilted delivery feels stilted, while Martin Short playing the same role as a puppet feels more natural.

For those who got to see Disney's display of sets and characters at Comic-Con, it's a treat to see a short featurette running over the whole event. Nope, I didn't see anybody I knew, but they captured the feel of the exhibit nicely. Seeing it in high definition almost drives home how cool it feels to see the real thing.

One thing about doing stop-motion animation is that it might interest kids in trying it at home. The blu-ray release includes a long documentary on the making of Frankenweenie that shows the sweat and detail. Really, it's an art form for adult obsessives and yes, children, so here's to sparking some imaginations.

So Disney released this all after Christmas -- treat it as a true love story between a boy and his dog, and consider it as a Valentine's gift for the family. This Tim Burton film has heart -- but more tell-tail than tell-tale.

Derek McCaw

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