I haven’t exactly had the best 2012 at the cinema.

Sure, I’ve seen my share of great films, but the overall landscape just seems more vacant than in years past. Maybe there’s something in the water, but 2012’s film slate just can’t call itself very memorable. But, on occasion, a light in a dark, dark tunnel will give you hope that the year might just be salvageable.

Who knew 2012’s saving grace would be a black-and-white stop-motion animated film about a Frankenstien-ified dog?

Tim Burton’s “Frankenweenie,” to me, is one of the year’s best films. I know what you’re thinking – that movie? The creepy-looking one with those weird cartoon-toy things that looks like that Halloween/Christmas movie that scared me as a kid?

Yes, this is Burton returning to the world of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (a film he produced, not directed) and “The Corpse Bride” – a world many find strange and unsettling. I’m a pretty big fan of “Nightmare,” but “Corpse Bride” escapes my memory. Stop-motion Burton style is an acquired taste – one that I just so happen to be pretty big on. So, when Burton announced that he was adapting one of his earlier short films into a feature-length stop-motion animated project, I was jumping for joy.

Thankfully, Burton pulled through.

“Frankenweenie” captured me in a way I never honestly thought it could – in the same way that most “boy-and-his-dog” narratives usually do. I should have seen it coming, but Burton knew how to get to me. The film is a personal look into Burton as an artist (something that’s been said by almost every critic so far – bare with me) as well as a look into the genre that he loves. It’s a film saturated in devotion and effort by a filmmaker who clearly feels very passionate about his movie. Trust me, it’s evident when a director cares about what he’s made. And trust me, the love shows, and we’re the true benefactors.

The film follows young Victor Frankenstein, a scientific genius who also has a knack at making home movies with his beloved pooch Sparky. He has a pair of very supportive parents (his father wants him to balance the scientific and the athletic), but that’s about it. Victor is a loner – one who is happy with a video camera and a loyal dog more than anything else. His life changes when Sparky has a fateful encounter with a baseball retrieval – a scene that Burton handles with class. After the horrid accident, Victor cannot cope with the fact that his only friend has passed on, so through the teachings of his school’s stoic science teacher Mr. Rzykruski, Victor uses the heritage of his last name and a little lightning to bring Sparky back – a catalyst that sets off a chain of events after the re-animation catches the attention of a few jealous classmates.

Burton tells “Frankenweenie” in an almost storybook-quality fashion – one that brings a feeling of warmth to the proceedings. Naturally, the animation is spectacular, but it’s how Burton uses the pacing and animation to tell the story that really grabbed me. Great storytellers don’t let the style overtake the substance. Burton realized this going in and crafted a near-masterpiece – a film that almost-mystically balances the heartfelt, the humorous and the horrifying.

I was impressed by Burton’s understanding of what he wanted this movie to be. He lets his desires to create a homage to the genre he was raised on and loves not eclipse, but compliment the story. Burton’s gleefully twisted sense of humor and his hopes to scare also show at key moments – creating a few jump-out freaky scenes that will leave you howling with laughter (once the shock wears off, of course). Burton loves the creepy, and “Frankenweenie” doesn’t disappoint in that arena.

The voice cast works perfectly, allowing for character actors like Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara to voice multiple characters (I loved Short’s take on the pompous Mayor Bergermeister).

Speaking of Mayor Bergermeister, the character design in this movie flat out stuns (Sparky is just great). It’s classic Burton stop-motion, but as a fan, I love the imagination he puts into what each character looks like. Burton’s imagination runs rampant here – for the best.

I also want to note Danny Elfman’s impactful score. Burton uses his long-time collaborator’s music to enhance the experience in a way that heightens the emotions. (And again, trust me, this film can tug at your heartstrings more than you’d think).

I’ve always been a Tim Burton fan, and “Frankenweenie” proves how much talent this guy has. The film is one of 2012’s best – one that I can’t wait to dive back into. It’s at times laugh-out-loud funny, at times edge-of-your-seat engaging, and also, at times, quite moving. It’s Burton at his best, and I couldn’t be more thrilled.

I screened the film in 3D, but it’s actually not too bad here. There are a few moments that pop out, but I doubt not seeing the film in the technology would affect your experience.

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