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Corpse Bride
Reviewed by Gary Mitchel, © 2005

Format: Movie
By:   Tim Burton (director) and Mike Johnson (director)
Genre:   Fantasy
Released:   September 23, 2005
Review Date:   September 29, 2005
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

I like your enthusiasm.” — Victor

I am a nut for The Nightmare Before Christmas. I saw it multiple times in the theatre, dragged many friends to see it, have various bits of memorabilia around my home, and it was the first disk purchased for my DVD player. So when I caught the first trailer for Corpse Bride, seeing that Burton was going to do another stop-motion animated movie with music by Danny Elfman, I was one very happy geek.

Corpse Bride is a story about two families, the pending marriage that will join them together, and the dead woman who disrupts their anxious plans. First up are the Van Dorts: father William (Paul Whitehouse of Finding Neverland), mother Nell (Tracy “you can thank me for the Simpsons” Ullman) and their thin, awkward and jittery son Victor (Johnny Depp). The Von Dorts are nouveau riche fishmongers looking for respectability.

The second family is the landed gentry Everglots: Lord Finnis (Albert Finney), Lady Maudeline (Joanna Lumley of Absolutely Fabulous), and daughter Victoria (Emily Watson). While the Everglots are not to thrilled with the idea of the upcoming nuptials, they are mere weeks from the poorhouse and need the infusion of the Von Dorts’ fortunes to keep afloat.

Victor and Victoria are not too keen on the idea of the wedding. Victor is a nervous wreck about marrying a woman he’s never met. Victoria is surer of herself, but also thinks she should be marrying for love. Thankfully, when the two meet at the wedding rehearsal it becomes a bit of love at first sight.

The test run of the ceremony is overseen by Pastor Galswells (Christopher Lee) and attended by scheming Lord Barkis Bittern (Richard E. Grant). Victor is still flustered during this dry run, and causes it to go completely awry when he accidentally sets Lady Maudeline on fire. After being admonished by the pastor he goes into the nearby woods to practice his vows.

As the night passes, he finally finds a spark of self-confidence and nails the vows, placing the ring upon what he mistakenly thinks is a branch sticking out of the ground. Instead, it is the bony hand of Emily (Helena Bonham Carter). She rises from the ground, accepts Victor’s proposal and claims him as husband.

Victor is taken down into the land of the dead, where he discovers how Emily became all corpsified, tries to get out of this unintended marriage, finds his nerve and has to choose which woman to have in wedded bliss, the one with the pulse or the one without.

Story-wise, Corpse Bride is deeper and more complex than Nightmare and might be a little harder for the younger set to follow. Most of us will see many, but not all, of the twists coming. But really, the story is only one part of why we’re seeing this film. The visuals, acting and music are well worth the visit.

The movie is amazing to watch. The look is all Burton, with his trademark mix of Gorey and goth, with the oddly shaped buildings and exaggerated characters. The stop motion is flawlessly done, and reeks of love of the art.

What’s really interesting is how Burton visually separates the land of the living and land of the dead. There is very little color amongst the living, and what color that happens to be there is very muted. It has the tone and feel of an English black-and-white character piece with the occasional pale blue or deep maroon.

When we journey to the underworld, the screen pops with vibrant greens and cherry reds. Where the living are repressed and restrained, the dead are flamboyant and fluid. The dead enjoy life more than the living. Welcome to the mind of Tim Burton. Anyway, the film is beautiful, really a true work of art. You could enjoy it with the sound turned off.

The voice acting is also superb, with Depp and Carter doing their usual excellent work. Watson makes Victoria a strong character we care about, and Lee steals every moment in which he speaks. The only off-key note for me is Emily’s maggot sidekick, voiced by Enn Reitel. It’s not the actor’s fault, really. The worm is a play on Peter Lorre visually, so Enn voices him the same way. It’s kind of cute at first, but it's really unoriginal and it's grating after a while. Especially when he sings.

This leads me to the music, which is almost perfect. The score is pure Elfman, and fits the film beautifully. As a composer, he is truly at his best when paired with Burton. The main songs, however, are a mixed bag. Emily’s “Tears to Shed” is haunting, but the main song that explains what happened to her, “Remains of the Day,” is a bit too frantic and hard to follow. So while it is a great soundtrack, it’s not quite up to the bar set by Nightmare, which I think is this film's biggest stumbling block.

Corpse Bride is a great movie. Standing on its own, it would become a fan favorite. However, it stands in the shadow of Nightmare, and those expectations could really cause a lot of people to think less of it. It doesn’t quite have the same heart as Nightmare. However, to compare it to that film isn’t really fair, as it was pretty much a fairy tail in the vein of the old Holiday specials, and Bride is a more mature story with its own Burton vibe. So if you can set aside your preconceptions you will really enjoy this movie. If you can’t, the film is a little lacking.

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