It was back in 1984 that Tim Burton first conceived the idea of an animated feature about a little boy who brings his dead dog back to life. Budget constraints meant the Gothic director's Frankenweenie could be made only as a short for Disney but, for whatever reason, Burton kept hold of the drawings he made of the characters he had conjured up - and, boy, should we be thankful he did.
After delivering one of the most insipid films of the year in Dark Shadows, Burton is back to his best with this parody and homage to the 1931 film Frankenstein that, while packed full of his usual weird Gothic characters, will strike a chord with anyone who knows the close bond we form with our pets.
Indeed, Frankenweenie is the most touching of all Burton's films no doubt because he tapped into his own childhood (when he mourned the loss of his own dog) for this heartwarming tale about a young boy named Victor whose hobbies include inventing things in his attic workshop and making monster movies starring his four-legged best friend Sparky.
When Sparky is hit by a car, a heart-broken Victor conducts an experiment to bring his canine companion back to life. To his astonishment it works.
Scared to admit to his parents what he has done, Victor tries to keep his bolt-necked creation a secret, until one day his schoolfriends get wind of what he's done and set about trying to resurrect their late pets in an effort to win the school's science fair.
Burton scored a visual effects Oscar nod for 1993's The Nightmare Before Christmas and his 2005 feature Corpse Bride was nominated for a best animated feature Academy Award. His third stop-motion animation is a film with a much stronger heart, giving it a broader appeal than his usual Gothic offerings and suggesting it could just get over the line come awards season.
But while the animation itself - in black and white and rendered in 3-D to mirror the Frankenstein story - is a treat to watch it's the characters Burton has been honing for the past 28-odd years, many inspired by old horror movie stars, that provide the most entertainment.
There's Victor himself (voiced by Charlie St Cloud's Charlie Tahan), a science-loving loner, and his soulful and sombre neighbour Elsa Van Helsing (Winona Ryder reuniting with Burton for the first time since 1990's Edward Scissorhands) whose pet poodle also bears an uncanny resemblance to the director's real-life partner Helena Bonham Carter.
Then there's the delicious Edgar E. Gore (voiced by The Middle's Atticus Shaffer), a hunchback-esque character modelled on the late Hungarian/American actor Peter Lorre, who during the 1930s specialised in playing sinister foreigners, and Victor's eccentric eastern European science teacher Mr Rzykruski (Martin Landau), based loosely on Vincent Price, best known for his iconic roles in horror films such as House of Wax, The Mad Magician and The Fly.
Add to the mix Weird Girl (Catherine O'Hara) who delivers hilarious ominous pronouncements in a monotone voice and whose fluffy feline companion Mr Whiskers has the same unblinking gaze and if there was an ensemble prize for animated features Frankenweenie would walk away with it.
The screenplay by John August is equally delightful, with plenty of funny one-liners and quirky references to horror films from Dracula to Gremlins, while Burton's attention to detail is extraordinary. .
Tombstones in the pet cemetery, for example, read "Goodbye Kitty" - a reference to the popular Hello Kitty character - and "Shelley" - a nod to Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein.
The director has even poked fun at his own films with the streets of Frankenweenie's New Holland bearing an uncanny resemblance to the suburban landscape in Edward Scissorhands.
Frankenweenie is clearly, if you'll pardon the pun, Burton's pet project. But while probably a bit too intense for really young children, like that soulful gaze your dog gives you when he wants a cuddle, it's impossible not to succumb to the charms of this glorious monster mash-up.Frankenweenie opens today.