Corpse Bride

  Corpse Bride
"My milkshake brings all the
boys to the yard ..."

© 2005, Warner Bros.
All Rights Reserved

On the eve of his arranged wedding to a woman (voiced by Emily Watson) he has just met, Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) takes off into the woods to practice his tricky vows. After a successful rehearsal of his lines, Victor realizes he's accidentally married the Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter), who is elated to have found love at last. The Bride takes Victor to her underworld home of the dead, and looks forward to a new life with her very living husband. Victor, scared out of his wits, tries to rejoin the living, but soon finds himself caring for his rotting wife, while an evil suitor (Richard E. Grant) tries to muscle in on the bride he left behind.

After a 13-year absence since his cult hit "The Nightmare Before Christmas" took everyone by surprise, Tim Burton has cracked his head open once again to bestow on the world another morbid animated buffet with his weapon of choice: stop-animation.

As a technical exercise, "Corpse Bride" (IMDb listing) is the bee's knees. Lavishly mounted, lovingly animated, and a virtual road map of Burton's Rankin/Bass-colored subconscious, "Bride" is eye candy of the highest order. Taking full advantage of all the new shortcuts in the painstaking medium of stop-animation, and after having the risky "Christmas" experience turn out so well for him, Burton pushes full-steam ahead with "Bride," indulging his peculiar storytelling in personal ways never allowed before by the studios.

The exaggerated character designs are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the oddball sights in "Bride." With chins like footballs, legs as thin and brittle as toothpicks, and eyes like billiard balls, the meticulous appearance of the characters is almost enough to fill two movies. Burton and his co-director Mike Johnson ("The PJ's") do a wonderful job nailing the minutiae of facial gestures and movement with each character. Burton also gets an opportunity to take his dark humor out for another lap, going even further than "Christmas" in terms of having fun with severed limbs and gaping wounds (while keeping the horror PG, of course). Burton and Johnson also employ a wonderful voice cast to fill out the picture (also including Albert Finney, Joanna Lumley, and Christopher Lee), with Johnny Depp in the most straight-laced role of his career. Of course, he has to occasionally play opposite a maggot that looks and sounds like Peter Lorre, so maybe it was smart of Depp to put away his bag of tricks this one time.

With all the macabre sights to keep the senses flowing, Burton and his screenwriters still couldn't overcome one huge detail: "Corpse Bride" is unexpectedly dull. In "Christmas," Burton had a premise the lent itself perfectly to the stop-motion world, bursting with colors, song, and drama. "Bride" is more of a 20-minute idea, stretched too tightly over 85 dragging minutes, the plot being more polite chatting than goosebump-inducing. When the movie features puppets, a conversation-intense animated film probably isn't the best arena for the script. "Bride" lends itself better to live action, where the ghoulish disposition of the film could be realized through nifty special effects and the magic that comes from flesh-and-blood acting. Again, while the animation wizardry is eye opening, all the technical expertise in the world can't stop the film from feeling labored, and lacking some serious inspiration.

Burton tries to plug the pacing holes with another round of tunes from Danny Elfman, a vet of "Christmas." Unfortunately, Elfman's songs for "Bride" don't lift the story up in the least. The tunes are unable to find a life of their own and feel exactly like the filler they were intended to be.

"Bride" starts to liven up in the third act, finding sillier ways to get its comedy across, which is exactly the kind of punch the rest of the film needed. However much the film crawls, "Corpse Bride" is still quite an achievement in the small corner of the animation world it resides in and one that doesn't get nearly as much attention as it deserves.

Filmfodder Grade: C+

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