Corpse Bride Review
Written by: The Dude
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, sadly, has to live in the large shadow of the quite superior Nightmare Before Christmas. They will inevitably always be compared to one another, and it's not without merit. Both are "From the mind of Tim Burton," both have musical numbers from Danny Elfman, both are stop-motion animation, and both deal with a sense of the macabre. However, Corpse Bride seems to be missing something. My gut instinct is to say it's Henry Selick's involvement in the film. (A lot of people forget that he is indeed, the director of that film, despite Tim Burton's name over the title.
Much like this film is co-directed by Mike Johnson). I think he might have been able to rein in some of Burton's more goofy tendencies. He's not here, however. Instead we get full on Tim Burton land. Which can sometimes be good, but sometimes can feel like we've been here before. Again, we have a tale of love amongst freaks and weirdos, a Burton specialty. In Corpse Bride, we have the tale of Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp) a young man, son of fish monger parents, who is about to wed to Victoria (Emily Watson), the daughter of the formerly wealthy Everglot family. Neither Victor or Victoria have met, and neither wants to really wed without such silly notions as romance and true love.
Their first encounter involved Victor playing a piano, and Victoria warming up to the idea of marrying a rather passionate and talented man. (You know he's talented because he draws a butterfly in the beginning). Anyway, there's a song that opens the flick about the wedding rehearsal. I'll get to the songs in a second. So, at the rehearsal, Victor manages to bungle everything, and the pastor (voiced by Christopher Lee, who I totally want to marry me and my wife, Rachel McAdams or whoever it winds up being. But his voice is quite commanding) orders Victor to not come back until he gets his properly learned his vows. Wandering through the woods, Victor practices.
He finally gets it correct, and puts the wedding ring on a branch. OR SO HE THOUGHT!!!!!! (Dun dun duunnnn!) It turns out, as you might have guessed, that it wasn't a branch, rather the hand of the CORPSE BRIDE!! (title). She's voiced by Helena Bonham Carter. Oh, and she's dead. To tell you why she's a corpse bride would take away from another song. (See, there's a song to conveniently explain it). So the whole movie is about Victor realizing that he's married to said corpse bride, while trying to return to the land of the living. I'm not gonna tell you what else happens, suffice it to say it's not that much. The film is only about 75 minutes long or so, and yet, the story still feels way too slight for it. It took three screenwriters, plus Burton's involvement, and they STILL have to pad the film out with some Danny Elfman songs. The story is kind of weak, but then again story has never been Burton's strong point. He's all about the visuals, and this film is thankfully no exception.
For all my bitching and moaning, I have to say the movie does look fantastic. It has a nice Edgar Allen Poe aura about it. It's also very similar in style to the village of Sleepy Hollow in a previous Burton/Depp outing. The land of the dead, which is surprisingly much more colorful and happy then the drab land of the living, was quite fun to see. There are a lot of skeletons that inhabit this land. Singing, dancing skeletons. (I suppose singing dancing decomposing zombies would bump the rating up a few notches, so here's hoping Romero takes that idea and runs with it). I remember my dad telling me, after seeing Army of Darkness, that as a child, skeletons used to scare him a lot, and that seeing moving skeletons in that flick brought some of those fears to light. I wonder how he'd interpret singing dancing variety of skeletons. I have to say, it is nice to see stop motion puppetry again, after it seems like every animated movie has to be CG animated.
It's a nice change of pace, and it works to see the texture and spacial relationships between characters and objects. Just a little side note. There are some good sequences in the film, the climax involving a slight parody (not in any obvious or conscious sense of the word) of Night of the Living Dead stands out as my favorite. But again, I feel that there's a slight Burton familiarity with the whole project. Part Nightmare, part Sleepy Hollow, a big part Beetlejuice, another big part Oyster Boy (Burton's tales of depressing poems and short stories about loners, where all the characters look much like the character design in the film). Add lemon, stir. And although I only heard them once, the songs are nowhere near as catchy or involving as in Nightmare.
Sure, there are fewer of them, but they really don't feel as if they add anything to the story. Even the song involving the back story of the corpse bride, while toe tapping, feels rather unnecessary. (And I found it difficult at times to decipher the words, but that could have been lousy projectionist standards. If only they used a UNION projectionist...). The voice work is quite good. Depp plays nebbish well, but there's only so much he can do. Carter is quite sweet as the corpse bride, and I must admit much fondness for Watson's Victoria. Other respected actors, such as Albert Finney, Joanna Lumley, Tracey Ullman, Michael Gough, and Richard E. Grant, have fun with their roles, and bring the characters to life. I think the best voice has to be the maggot inside the corpse bride's head (she is dead after all) that sounds like Peter Lorre. The maggot is voiced by Enn Reitel, and is the most memorable character to me.
Second being the town crier, also voiced by Reitel. Hmmmm....... The movie's not bad at all. Far from it. I just feel like I've seen it done before, and done better. It breaks my heart, because I really wanted to like it. Love it, even. Take it in and give it a big old hug. I'm sure many people will. Alas, it feels like it's trying to hard to be something it's not. And I'm trying really hard to find a way to incorporate "corpse" and "didn't quite 'dig' it" in an attempt to end this on a witty note, but it's too damn late.