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Review -Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (2005)
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Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (*** out of ****)

Reviewed by Tim Sika

When Tim Burton puts his name on an animation project, it creates a certain expectation: you know it will have a dark, highly stylized Gothic look, quirky humor, a tragic character or two and almost certainly some harmonic and rhythmically interesting music courtesy of longtime collaborator Danny Elfman. Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is all of these, and a sweetly macabre story to boot.

In a Victorian-era village, Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp in his fifth Burton outing) is the melancholic son of wealthy fish merchants, and betrothed to Victoria (Emily Watson), daughter of old-money aristocrats. The impending marriage leaves the nervous Victor unable to remember his wedding vows, so, he escapes to the woods, where he mistakenly becomes the object of desire of one very dead Bride (Helena Bonham Carter).

When she drags him down into the Land of the Dead (where things are really swinging), Victor tries to return topside, but soon realizes that life would be better among the un-living. As he prepares to finalize the affair, Victoria is about to be married off to Barkis Bittern, a dubious distant relative whose sudden appearance is just a bit too well-timed.

Kudos must go to Burton and co-director Mike Johnson for steadfastly supporting the ever-diminishing art of stop-motion animation. In bringing to “Bride” the highest caliber of talent, they ensure the old-school process lives on in the next generation of animators. The character realizations are smoother and more perfectly refined than we’ve seen before, and once again display a heart and sense of organic life still curiously absent from most of the best of CGI.

The cinematography is vivid, brilliantly conceived and executed: the land of the living is awash in a range of blues and grays, the underworld vibrant and dripping with color; alive and popping like a nightclub where the party never stops.

The smart voice cast includes Joanna Lumley and Albert Finney as Victoria’s parents, Richard E. Grant, perfect as the boorish Barkis, the suddenly ubiquitous but still effective Christopher Lee as Pastor Galswells, and Danny Elfman as Bonejangles, the skeletal storyteller who fills us in on the Bride's predicament.

Comparisons to 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas are inevitable, if unfortunate. Corpse Bride has little of its predecessor’s warmth,edge or ostensibly twisted charm. The songs are good, though difficult to remember, and large portions of lyrics are swallowed by the film’s unconscionably dense mix. Also, it’s unlikely that Victor and the Bride will join Nightmare’s Jack Skellington or the other residents of Halloweentown in pop culture perpetuity.

Mostly, though, something seems missing here. Though this may be Burton’s idea of true love Victor and Victoria are less engaging than many of the other characters, and the ending seems a tad unsatisfying and rushed.

If we are to believe the screenplay which implies Victor has more in common with the dead woman it would have been more in keeping with Burton’s infectiously deranged, appealing sensibility had Victor just killed himself to be with her. And the notion that the corpse bride was fettered in the afterlife by bitterness towards Barkis for wronging her while she was alive (and her needing to transmute that before she was freed) makes little sense because once dead such distinctions cease to exist. Though benign and sweet throughout, aspects and thematic elements like these feel somewhat undistinguished and unremarkable. Still, when looked at as a whole, there is much here to savor and enjoy.

The arrival of Corpse Bride marks the second Tim Burton feature in just two months, behind his delirious, delightful, off-the-wall take on Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. They nicely make 2005 a very good year for Tim Burton fans.

2005 Tim Sika/ Celluloid Dreams

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