Richard’s Review: 4 stars

When you lose someone you love they never really leave you.” These are the comforting words parents say to their kids when a beloved pet or grandparent dies. Leave it to the twisted mind of Tim Burton to take it one step further in “Frankenweenie,” his latest stop-motion animated film, about a boy and his dead dog.

The story takes place in the small town of New Holland, the kind of place with nosy neighborus and a line in the official town song about “modest homes at modest prices.” Look just beyond the perfectly manicured lawns, however, and you’ll find goth kids with creepy names like Victor Frankenstein, (voiced by Charlie Tahan), his parents (voiced by Catherine O’Hara and Martin Short) and his dog Sparky.

When Sparky is unexpectedly killed, Victor takes his mother’s platitude to heart --the “never leave you” part anyway. He digs up his pet and brings him back to life using a method he learned in science class.  Victor is thrilled to have Sparky back, but will his parents and friends be as happy?

Reanimating corpses is not exactly the subject of kid’s films -- unless you’re Tim Burton. This filmmaker can take a horror premise and turn it into a touching and funny family story about a lonely boy and his best friend.

The film’s climax may be too intense for small kids, so judge your child’s tolerance for giant sea monkeys and some mild action before buying tickets for the whole family. 

Using gorgeous black-and-white and 3D, Burton has crafted visuals that would make James Whale proud. No detail is too small or too strange for the director’s eye, from the beautiful set design to the homages to “Gamera” and “An American Werewolf in London.”

All the macabre elements of good, old-fashioned horror movies are represented here. That includes mobs with torches and lightning strikes bringing dead things back to life. but underneath it all is a great deal of heart, something that has been missing from Burton’s recent blockbuster work.

“Frankenweenie” feels more personal and handmade because of the stop-motion animation. Kids may not get the “Bride of Frankenstein” gags, but they’ll love the look of the film.

The film also includes good voice work from Burton’s “Beetlejuice” cast members O’Hara and Wynona Ryder, with “Ed Wood’s” Martin Landau chiming in. Newcomers like Short, Tahan and Atticus Shaffer bring the ghoulish puppets to life, animating them with real personality.

Burton has been trying to make “Frankenweenie” for a long time. It first saw life as a Disney short way back in 1984. It has definitely been worth the wait.

“Taken 2”

Richard’s Review: 2 stars

Much of the fun of 2008’s “Taken” was seeing beloved thespian Liam Neeson go all Chick Norris in a dirty little Eurotrash thriller. It was unexpected and it was fun. Unfortunately, the sequel doesn’t have that same gritty magic.

“Taken 2” is silly, talky and fails to delivers a lot of action. That much I would have expected from a director with the last name of Megaton.

Picking up where the last movie left off, the sequel diorected by Olivier Megaton sees an Albanian mafia head (Rade Sherbedgia) vowing revenge against the man who killed his son, Bryan Mills' (Neeson).

The film is set in Istanbul, where the Mills family is trying to enjoy a holiday. That family includes daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), who was kidnapped in Paris and almost sold into prostitution in the last film, and her mother Lenore (Famke Janssen).

When Bryan and Lenore are taken by the mob, Kim must work to free them, with the assistance of her ex-CIA father’s “very particular set of skills.”

When you lay down your money to see a movie in the “Taken” family you expect to be surprised. Last time out it was startling to see Neeson as a full-on action hero as he got physical with hundreds of foes. This time, however, they could have kept thing fresh by expanding the daughter’s role and turning her into a super spy.

We get a taste of that, but despite some very dubious spy advice from her dad (“Go to the window, pull the plug on a grenade and throw it.”), we just get more of the same, only less. 

Before we even get to the reason we paid to see the flick – namely Neeson’s grimacing and chest beating -- there’s 30 minutes of budding romance, family drama and some very lame attempts at character development. That’s all well and good for a different movie, but “Taken 2” isn’t that kind of film.

This sequel should be a relentless, labyrinthine adventure with an exotic backdrop. Instead it feels direct-to-video generic.