CORPSE BRIDE

4 Stars
Year Released: 2005
MPAA Rating: PG
Running Time: 74 minutes
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Give Tim Burton credit for one thing: he doesn’t lack imagination. Whether it’s the uneven fantasy storytelling of Big Fish or fulfilling a years-old fetish by putting Winona Ryder in a blonde wig for “Edward Scissorhands,” the man has a distinct vision.

“Corpse Bride,” Burton’s latest, is a better than average example of this. Hand animated using stop-motion technology and shot with digital still cameras, the look of the film is much more polished than Burton’s first foray into animation (1993’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas”), but the characters still recall the art of Edward Gorey and Gahan Wilson, and the subject matter manages to be both macabre and touching at the same time.

Victor Van Dort is a timid young man who views his approaching wedding to the sweeter than sweet Victoria Everglot with something more than the usual groom’s jitters. The marriage is being arranged by both sets of parents. Victor’s mom and dad are fishmongers who, while they have achieved some reasonable financial success, are looking for the legitimacy a union with the old money Everglots will confer. The Everglots, while they may once have been “old money,” are one step away from the poorhouse, and wish to take advantage of the Van Dorts’ financial largesse.

Of course, nobody cares about this preliminary crap, and after Victor muffs the rehearsal and wanders into the woods to ponder his fate, things start happening. Through a series of goofy coincidences that make perfect sense in context, Victor ends up married to Emily, the Corpse Bride. She promptly whisks Victor off to the land of the dead, and this is when the action really picks up.

Burton’s conception of the afterlife here differs from the bureaucratic nightmare of “Beetlejuice.” Up in the realm of the living, it’s all dreary Victorian propriety, while down below they’re shooting pool, drinking beer, and jamming to a slightly anachronistic skeletal jazz combo. Victor is unimpressed, however, and wants to return to Victoria. Anyone else could be forgiven for sticking around, as Burton makes it quite apparent that there’s much more fun and, indeed, joie de vivre to be had among the dead than amongst the living.

The remainder of the film’s rather short running time (less than 80 minutes) is spent dealing with the Corpse Bride’s efforts to keep Victor down below, while the Everglots scheme to marry off Victoria to a mystery man who may have a deeper connection to events than would first appear.

For a movie with occasionally necrophiliac overtones, there’s very little here that will scare anyone. Death, as Burton sees it, is merely another state of being (and another state of residence), rather than a choice between heaven or hell. Those who pass on don’t have to worry about a destination preordained by some capricious and vengeful Supreme Being, but simply move to another town, albeit one with talking spiders and more bones than a Día de los Muertos parade. The biggest complaint is that more time isn’t spent among the denizens, learning about their world.

Johnny Depp is top billed here, and is more than adequate as Victor, but Helena Bonham Carter really shines in the role of Emily. You can understand why Victor wouldn’t want to stay wed to a woman in the process of decomposing, but (and I may be exposing my own personal biases here) the goth girls are always more appealing than the straight-laced ones. Albert Finney (as Victoria’s father) and Christopher Lee (as the pastor) are also excellent.

With “Corpse Bride” and this summer’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton is batting a thousand for 2005 (and has finally managed to erase the stain of Planet of the Apes from my memory). His latest is a visual triumph, and also a work of surprising warmth. No small accomplishment for a bunch of cadavers.

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Posted on September 17, 2005 in Reviews by
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