Young filmmaker and scientist Victor Frankenstein (Charlie Tahan) lives with his parents, Edward (Martin Short) and Susan Frankenstein (Catherine O'Hara), and his beloved Bull Terrier dog, Sparky, in the quiet town of New Holland. Victor's intelligence is recognized by his classmates at school, his somber next-door neighbor, Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder), mischievous, Igor-like Edgar "E" Gore (Atticus Shaffer), obese and gullible Bob (Robert Capron), overconfident Toshiaki (James Hiroyuki Liao), creepy Nassor, and an eccentric girl nicknamed Weird Girl, but communicates little with them due to his relationship with his dog. Concerned with his son's isolation, Victor's father encourages him to take up baseball and make achievements outside of science. Victor hits a home run at his first game, but Sparky, pursuing the ball, is struck by a car and killed.
Inspired by his science teacher Mr. Rzykruski's (Martin Landau) demonstration of the effect of electricity on dead frogs, a depressed Victor digs up Sparky's corpse, brings him to his makeshift laboratory in the attic and successfully reanimates him with lightning. Seeing Weird Girl's living cat, Mr. Whiskers, the undead Sparky escapes from the attic and explores the neighborhood. He is recognized by Edgar, who blackmails Victor into teaching him how to raise the dead. The two reanimate a dead goldfish, which turns invisible due to an error with the experiment. Edgar brags about the undead fish to Toshiaki and Bob, which, in panic of losing the upcoming science fair, inspires them to make a rocket out of soda bottles, which causes Bob to break his arm and Mr. Rzykruski to be blamed and fired due to his accused influencing and reviling the townsfolk for questioning his methods when he steps up for self-defense. So, the gym teacher replaces Mr. Rzykruski.
Eventually, Edgar's fish disappears when he tries to show it to a skeptical Nassor (who was told by Toshiaki), and when Edgar is confronted by Toshiaki, Nassor and Bob on the baseball field at school, he accidentally reveals Victor's actions, inspiring them to try reanimation themselves. Victor's parents discover Sparky in the attic and are frightened, causing the dog to flee. Victor and his parents search for Sparky while the classmates invade the lab, discovering Victor's reanimation formula. The classmates separately perform their experiments, which go awry and turn the dead animals into monsters — Mr. Whiskers holds a dead bat while it is electrocuted, resulting in him fusing with it and becoming a monstrous bat-cat with wings and fangs. Edgar turns a dead rat he found in the garbage into a wererat, Nassor revives his mummified hamster Colossus and Toshiaki's turtle Shelley is covered in Miracle Gro and turns into a giant Gamera-like monster. Bob's Sea-Monkeys grow into amphibious humanoids. The monsters break loose into the town fair where they wreak havoc.
After finding Sparky at the town's pet cemetery, Victor sees the monsters heading to the fair and goes with his classmates to help deal with them — the Sea-Monkeys explode after eating salt-covered popcorn, and Colossus is stepped on by Shelley, while the rat and Shelley are returned to their original, deceased forms after both being electrocuted. During the chaos, Persephone, Elsa's pet poodle, is grabbed by Mr. Whiskers and carried to the town windmill with Elsa and Victor chasing after. The townsfolk blame Sparky for Elsa's disappearance and chase him to the windmill, which Mayor Burgermeister accidentally ignites with his torch. Victor and Sparky enter the burning windmill and rescue Elsa and Persephone, but Victor is trapped inside. Sparky rescues Victor, only to be dragged back inside by Mr. Whiskers. A final confrontation ensues, and just as Mr. Whiskers has Sparky cornered, a flaming piece of wood breaks off and impales Mr. Whiskers, killing him. The windmill then collapses on Sparky, killing him again. To reward him for his bravery and saving Victor, the townsfolk gather to revive Sparky with their car batteries, reanimating him once more. Persephone, who has a hairstyle similar to Elsa Lanchester's Bride of Frankenstein, comes to Sparky as the two dogs share their love and kiss.Charlie Tahan as Victor Frankenstein, a young scientist who brings his dog (and best friend) Sparky back to life.
Martin Short as Edward Frankenstein, Victor's father / Nassor, Toshiaki's partner and Victor's other rival-like former enemy, who has a flat head inspired by Frankenstein's monster and whose voice and face resemble that of Boris Karloff / Mr. Bergermeister, the grumpy Mayor of New Holland, the Frankensteins' next-door neighbor and Elsa's uncle; a homage to the villainous Burgermeister Meisterburger from the Rankin/Bass film Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town.
Catherine O'Hara as Susan Frankenstein, Victor's mother / Gym Teacher, an unnamed teacher who replaced Mr. Rzykruski / Weird Girl, an eccentric girl who is one of Victor's classmates and obsessed with the psychic predictions of her cat, Mr. Whiskers
Martin Landau as Mr. Rzykruski, the eccentric but wise science teacher at Victor's school who speaks in a thick Eastern European accent. His teachings inspire Victor's effort to resurrect Sparky, and he acts as a mentor to Victor. The character was inspired by Burton's childhood icon, Vincent Price.
Winona Ryder as Elsa van Helsing, a kind next-door neighbor, and one of Victor's classmates.
Frank Welker as Sparky, Sea Creatures
Dee Bradley Baker as Persephone, Mr. Whiskers, Shelly, Colossus,
Atticus Shaffer as Edgar "E" Gore, a hunch-backed child (inspired by Igor) and one of Victor's classmates. He's the first to know of Victor's success in bringing Sparky back to life.
Robert Capron as Bob, an obese boy who is one of Victor's classmates.
Conchata Ferrell as Bob's mother, an obese and stereotypical suburban housewife who dotes upon her son. She believes in the status quo, and that her misguided actions are in Bob's best interest.
James Hiroyuki Liao as Toshiaki, Victor's rival-like former enemy and one of his classmates.
Tom Kenny as Fire Chief / Soldier / Man in Crowd
Christopher Lee as Dracula (in stock footage from Dracula).
Although Tim Burton signed with Disney to direct two films in Disney Digital 3D, including Alice in Wonderland and his remake of Frankenweenie, development for its full-length stop motion version dates as far back as November 2005, when scripts had been written by Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott. John August was approached for a rewrite in 2006, but was not hired until January 2009. Like the original, the feature version is shot in black and white. Many of the animation artists and crew from Corpse Bride are involved. In addition to remaking his earlier project, Burton is also borrowing heavily from his design from the titular character of Family Dog for Sparky.
Filming began at Three Mills Studios in July 2010. The crew created three giant sound stages, including Victor's cluttered family attic, a cemetery exterior, and a high school interior. The sound stages were then divided into 30 separate areas to deal with the handcrafted, frame-by-frame style of filmmaking. Compared to other stop-motion animation sets, Frankenweenie's set is much larger. As IGN notes, the main character Sparky had to be "'dog-size' compared to the other human characters, but also large enough to house all the elements of the mechanical skeleton secreted within his various foam and silicon-based incarnation". On the other hand, the mechanics are small and delicate, and in some instances they had to have Swiss watchmakers create the tiny nuts and bolts. Around 200 separate puppets were used, with roughly 18 different versions of Victor. The puppets also have human hair, with 40–45 joints for the human characters and about 300 parts for Sparky.
In early 2011 it was announced that Danny Elfman would score Frankenweenie, with work already started on pre-production music.
Prior to the film's release, an "inspired by" soundtrack album, Frankenweenie: Unleashed!, as well as Danny Elfman's Frankenweenie: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, was released by Walt Disney Records on September 25, 2012. Frankenweenie: Unleashed! contains bonus content that includes a custom icon and an app that will load a menu to view more the bonus content, provide input, or buy more music from Disney Music Group.
The film was initially set for release in November 2011, before Disney moved it to March 9, 2012. In January 2011, Box Office Mojo announced the film's new release date for October 5, 2012 with John Carter replacing the film for the once planned March 9, 2012 release. The film premiered on September 20, 2012, on the opening night of Fantastic Fest, an annual film festival in Austin, Texas. The film opened the London Film Festival on October 10, 2012, in the United Kingdom.
In the lead up to the film's release in October 2012, there was a traveling art exhibition detailing the work that has gone into creating the film. During the exhibition it was possible to see sets and characters that were used for the stop motion feature film.
From September 14, 2012, to November 5, 2012, Disney California Adventure offered exclusive scenes from the film during Muppet*Vision 3D's nighttime operating hours.
At Disneyland, Sparky's tombstone was added to the pet cemetery outside of Haunted Mansion Holiday, a seasonal attraction that features characters from Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Frankenweenie was released on DVD, Blu-ray, and Blu-ray 3D on January 8, 2013. The film is accompanied with a two-minute short animated film, titled Captain Sparky vs the Flying Saucers.
The film has received positive reviews from critics. Based on 198 reviews, the film currently holds a "Certified Fresh" rating of 87% on review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, with an average rating of 7.6/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Frankenweenie is an energetic stop-motion horror movie spoof with lovingly crafted visuals and a heartfelt, oddball story." Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 74 based on 38 reviews.
Justin Chang of Variety reacted positively to the film, saying that it "evinces a level of discipline and artistic coherence missing from the director's recent live-action efforts". Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a mediocre review by explaining that while the various creative elements of the film "pay homage to a beloved old filmmaking style", the film mostly feels "like second-generation photocopies of things Burton has done before". Roger Ebert gave the film three out of four stars, while regarding the film as "not one of Burton's best, but it has zealous energy" and "the charm of a boy and his dog retains its appeal." Chris Packham of The Village Voice gave the film a positive review, saying "Frankenweenie, scripted by John August, and based on a screenplay by Lenny Ripps from Burton's original story, is tight and brief, hitting all the marks you'd expect from an animated kid's film, and enlivened by Burton's visual style. The man should make more small movies like this one." Christy Lemire of the Associated Press gave the film three out of four stars, saying "Revisiting the past - his own, and that of the masters who came before him - seems to have brought this filmmaker's boyish enthusiasm back to life, as well." Kerry Lengel of The Arizona Republic gave the film three out of five stars, saying "It's all perfectly entertaining, but never really reaches the heights of hilarity, perhaps because everything about the plot is underdeveloped." Lisa Schwarzbaum of Entertainment Weekly gave the film an A-, saying "The resulting homage to Frankenstein in particular and horror movies in general is exquisite, macabre mayhem and a kind of reanimation all its own."
Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune gave the film two and a half stars out of four, saying "The monster-movie component of Frankenweenie stomps all over the appeal of the original 30-minute version." Linda Barnard of the Toronto Star gave the film three out of four stars, saying "High-concept and stylish, Frankenweenie is a playlist of films and characters from Burton's movie-loving childhood." James Berardinelli of ReelViews gave the film three out of four stars, saying "Even as the narrative becomes progressively more ghoulish and a Godzilla wannabe shows up, Frankenweenie never loses its heart." Joe Williams of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch gave the film three out of four stars, saying "Some audiences might feel that Frankenweenie is creaky, but those on the same wavelength as Burton will gratefully declare it's alive." Alonso Duralde of The Wrap gave the film a positive review, saying "Fans of Tim Burton 1.0, rejoice: Frankenweenie hearkens back to the director's salad days and, in turn, to the old-school horror classics that inspired him in the first place." Claudia Puig of USA Today gave the film three and a half stars out of five, saying "Frankenweenie is enlivened with beguiling visuals and captivating action sequences. The science is murky at best, but the underlying themes are profound, and the story is equal parts funny and poignant. It's Burton's most moving film." Rafer Guzman of Newsday gave the film two and a half stars out of four, saying "It's a quintessential Burton film, but also more Disney than a lot of Disney films." Amy Biancolli of the San Francisco Chronicle gave the film four out of four stars, saying "The overall effect is great cinema, good fun, a visual feast for pie-eyed Burton fans - and a terrifically warped reminder of just how freaky a PG film can be."
Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News gave the film four out of five stars, saying "Burton's extraordinary powers of imagination are in dazzling bloom, from the gorgeous stop-motion animation to the goofy, homemade horror movies the children direct." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film three and a half stars out of four, saying "Only Tim Burton could envision this Frankenstein-inspired tale, and it's a honey, a dark and dazzling spellbinder that scares up laughs and surprising emotion." Colin Covert of the Star Tribune gave the film four out of four stars, saying "The story brims with self-parody, social satire, horror, nostalgia, wit and emotional insight, with Burton keeping all the plates spinning." David Hiltbrand of The Philadelphia Inquirer gave the film two out of four stars, saying "Frankenweenie is the apotheosis of goth director Tim Burton's oeuvre: artistic yet sterile, incredibly meticulous and totally misbegotten." Stephanie Zacharek of NPR gave the film a negative review, saying "Burton half succeeds in making this revamped Frankenweenie its own distinctive creature, pieced together from the essential bits of the 29-minute original. But he just doesn't know when to stop, and his overgrown creation gets the better of him." Betsy Sharkey of the Los Angeles Times gave the film three out of five stars, saying "There are so many horror auteurs Burton wants to thank that the film is absolutely bursting at the seams with knowing nods." A. O. Scott of The New York Times gave the film three out of five stars, saying "While Frankenweenie is fun, it is not nearly strange or original enough to join the undead, monstrous ranks of the classics it adores."
Ty Burr of The Boston Globe gave the film four out of four stars, saying "Frankenweenie is a mere 87 minutes long, which turns out to be just the right length; there's not enough time for Burton to go off the rails as he does in so many of his films." Tom Long of The Detroit News gave the film a B+, saying "Frankenweenie may just be a wacky horror cartoon, but it's an awfully good wacky horror cartoon. Frighteningly good, you might say." Lou Lumenick of the New York Post gave the film three and a half stars out of four, saying "Frankenweenie is still the most Tim Burton-y of the director's films, and not just because it contains a vast catalog of references to his own movies - everything from Edward Scissorhands to the underrated 1989 Batman." Richard Corliss of Time gave the film a positive review, saying "This 3-D, black-and-white "family" comedy is the year's most inventive, endearing animated feature." Stephen Whitty of the Newark Star-Ledger gave the film four out of four stars, saying "The stop-motion animation - a favorite tool of Burton's - is given loving attention, and the character design is full of terrific touches, such as the hulking flat-topped schoolmate who looks a bit like a certain man-made monster." Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post gave the film three out of four stars, saying "Designed to appeal to both discriminating adults and older kids, the gorgeous, black-and-white stop-motion film is a fresh, clever and affectionate love letter to classic horror movies." Moira MacDonald of The Seattle Times gave the film three out of four stars, saying "Older kids, horror-movie buffs and Burton fans will likely enjoy this oddly gentle tale of a boy and his dog."
Frankenweenie grossed $35,291,068 in North America, and $46,200,000 in other countries, for a worldwide total of $81,491,068. In North America, the film opened at number five in its first weekend, with $11,412,213, behind Taken 2, Hotel Transylvania, Pitch Perfect and Looper. In its second weekend, the film dropped to number seven grossing an additional $7,054,334. In its third weekend, the film dropped to number nine grossing $4,329,358. In its fourth weekend, the film dropped to number 12 grossing $2,456,350.