Funny and dark, but lacking the vital spark of a truly memorable moment

THE final, but certainly not the least of the batch of spooky cartoon tales that have hit our screens in the run up to Hallowe'en, is a stop-motion animation, the latest unconventional creation from the mind of Tim Burton.

Victor Frankenstein is a young lad with no friends, who likes to spend his time making home-made movies.

His only companion is his dog Sparky, and when he's not making movies, Victor puts all his efforts into the science project at school.

But on the one day he decides to try his hand at sports, while playing baseball, Sparky is run over.

In the great tradition of his namesake, and with a bit of Pet Sematary thrown in, Victor thinks he can use electricity to bring Sparky back to life.

Once he does, all is well for a while, but Victor's strange little pal is on to him and wants in on the resurrection action, leading to problems for the whole town.

Burton first conceived Frankenweenie as a short film in 1984, and as such there's more than a suggestion that there simply isn't enough material here to drag the story out to feature length.

But it's in the details that it offers its pleasures, the quality of its characters, design and atmosphere carrying it much of the way.

The crackpot design is beautifully creepy, helped no end by being in black and white, and the frequent nods to James Whale's immortal Frankenstein films of the 30s means all the pieces are put in place for a finale that's a worthy tribute.

Victor's school is populated by odd kids who sound like Bela Lugosi and Peter Lorre, and his teacher (Martin Landau) looks like Vincent Price, and their scenes together are a joy.

To say Frankenweenie is Burton's best film in many years is probably to damn it with faint praise, because the kooky director has churned out some utter rubbish in the last decade.

It's certainly a reminder of the best of his early days, with more than a dash of Edward Scissorhands in its themes.

Further recalling his back catalogue, Burton has drafted in much of his old troop to voice, with Landau joined by Winona Ryder and Martin Short.

For the most part it's funny and dark, with buckets of charm, and generally fairly entertaining.

Yet it's never quite as engaging as it needs to be, missing the vital spark of that truly memorable moment, and a true sense of purpose in what is often just a bunch of skits and gags, albeit a fun bunch.

Decent enough then but still, given the choice, you'd be better off seeing Paranorman again.


Tim Burton

Running time:

87 mins


The best of the series, but...

DESPERATE to get back to their home, the gang are still stuck in Africa in this third animated outing for the New York Zoo animal pals.

Somehow they make it to Monaco in pursuit of the crazy penguins, who are still as vital to this series as Scrat is to Ice Age, and who have cleaned out the casino at Monte Carlo.

The first 20 to 30 minutes are as good as any animated movie this year, as a psychotic animal controller (Frances McDormand) pursues them through France and Italy and they end up on a circus train, though it does hit a bit of a slump thereafter.

There's a sharpness and zip to the animation that consistently makes this a joy to look at, with some stunning flights of visual imagination that would do Tex Avery proud.

With Ben Stiller hogging the spotlight as lion Alex, the others (Chris Rock's zebra, David Schwimmer's giraffe, Jada Pinkett Smith's hippo) are sidelined, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, so good are the penguins and McDormand.

Sadly, the slackness of the plot too often threatens to drag down the good stuff, and though it might not be saying much to say it's easily the best of the Madagascars to date, it could have been so much more.

Directors: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon

Running time: 93 mins


Incredibly stupid and tedious

FILMS like Paranormal Activity 4 are a true gift to moviegoers. Rarely do you get the opportunity to spend 90 minutes in a cinema entirely alone with your thoughts, with absolutely nothing on screen to distract you.

It's a great chance to make a start on that novel perhaps, or plan for your retirement.

It's only been three years since the first Paranormal Activity arrived as a breath of fresh air for horror fans, and became a surprise smash.

With their tiny production costs and insatiable fanbase they can be churned out indefinitely, but three films down the line, it's clear the makers are out of ideas.

With the need to introduce ever more convoluted backstory into the timeline, this one kicks off in 2006 with the kidnap of a baby seen in one of the earlier movies.

We then jump to 2011 and a new family, and predominantly the teenage daughter, as they start to experience strange goings on after they take in the weird young boy from across the street while his mother is in hospital.

The now thoroughly redundant found footage conceit necessitates someone filming all aspects of the family's daily life, and there's simply no justification for some of the things shown here being filmed.

It also begs the question, if this is all supposed to be home footage, why is it whenever something happens on screen it's accompanied by a loud bang on the soundtrack?

It's all incredibly stupid and desperately tedious, with literally nothing happening for most of the running time, interspersed with nonsensical poltergeist interaction.

Take along your tax forms to keep you entertained.

Directors: Henry Joost, Ariel Schulman

Running time:

87 mins


Beautifully filmed fantasy

SIX-YEAR-OLD Hushpuppy lives in desperate poverty with her ailing father in a delta area called The Bathtub.

Though never explicitly referred to, this is a post-Katrina Louisiana bayou where those living on the wrong side of the levy face the constant threat of having their entire world washed away, and only the bravery of Hushpuppy seems capable of saving them.

A magical realist drama with the emphasis on the magical, this is often as much a metaphorical fable as a literal piece of storytelling, and as such it can sometimes be a patience tester.

But a quite extraordinary performance from young Quvenzhané Wallis as Hushpuppy, a character of amazing spirit and determination, keeps it on track.

Taken as a beautifully filmed fantasy, with a stirring score and some authentic performances, it delivers the occasional striking moment, but the whole is lacking.

Director: Benh Zeitlin

Running time: 93 mins


Plenty of potential, but dry and uninvolving

BORN in the same hospital on the same day, Ginger and Rosa (Elle Fanning and Alice Englert) grow up as best friends.

As teenagers in 1962 London, they do everything together, from meeting boys to joining CND, but while Ginger drives herself to despair worrying about the threat of nuclear annihilation, the more carefree Rosa is content to explore her options. With the robust background of the Cuban Missile Crisis against the girls' friendship, there's plenty of potential here, and for a while it engages, with the best of the storytelling done through visual clues and body language.

But it grows more tedious as it progresses, and plot developments drive Ginger and Rosa apart.

Fanning and Englert are good, and a fine bevy of supporting faces, including Annette Bening and Timothy Spall, all do admirable work, but this is mostly dry, uninvolving stuff.

Director: Sally Potter

Running time: 90 mins