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A skeptical fan starts to wonder if maybe
The Rolling Stones are too old to be
touring, after all.
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride
AKA: Corpse Bride
Review written by: Alex Sandell
Corpse Bride is a simple tale that can be summed up in five or six sentences. Nell (Tracey Ullman) and William Van Dort (Paul Whitehouse) have made an arrangement with Maudeline (Joanna Lumley) and Finnis Everglot (Albert Finney) to have their son Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) wed the Everglot's daughter, Victoria (Emily Watson). Victor and Victoria don't meet until the eve of their wedding, where they fall in love over a Harryhausen (wink, wink) Piano. Things are looking up for the couple and their arranged marriage until a nervous and clumsy Victor trips over his own tongue during the wedding rehearsal. After Pastor Galswells (Christopher Lee) sends the groom-to-be away to properly learn his lines, Victor stumbles into the woods where he recites his vows perfectly and finds himself married to the Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter). Victor's rushed from the cloudy and colorless Land of the Living to the uproarious and outrageous Land of the Dead. Still pining for Victoria, Victor wants to return to the Land of the Living, but soon finds himself falling for the Corpse Bride.
The story makes Finding Nemo look like War and Peace. Corpse Bride doesn't have the meat on its bones (pun intended) that Tim Burton's stop-motion masterpiece, The Nightmare Before Christmas, did. Although both movies are only around an hour and fifteen minutes long, Christmas was able to flesh out (pun semi-intended) its characters in a way that Bride rarely does. A friend of mine -- also a big fan of Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas -- advised me to knock my expectations down a couple of notches before walking into the theater, so I could walk out of the theater happy. It was a great piece of advice, and one that I'm passing on to you. Corpse Bride, while still a showpiece picture in its own right, can't keep up with the non-stop, manic and magical imagination found in The Nightmare Before Christmas. It's like a Christmas tree filled with all the dazzling ornaments, but missing the star on top.
Purely on a visual level, Corpse Bride is more vibrant and imaginative than any 10 Hollywood blockbusters combined. Making the Land of the Living this drizzly, cold place where no one would ever want to live, while dressing up the Land of the Dead like New Orleans at Mardi-Gras (hey now, it'll be back), was a brilliant idea. All the repressed living humans cloaking their true feelings and hiding behind a set of social rules, while their deceased counterparts are in a perpetual state of hullabaloo, was a nice piece of subtle social commentary. It's fun to imagine the dead being a bit less straight-laced than the stuffy living. Seriously, folks, if this life thing's as good as it gets, what's the point of being alive? Rules are meant to be broken! Make love, not war! Tune in, turn on, drop out! The Land of the Dead in Corpse Bride finally gives us an afterlife that looks worth passing away for. I haven't looked forward to dying this much in a long time!
The movie is more dialogue heavy than one would expect. This is stop-motion by way of Woody Allen. Since Danny Elfman only gets about 4 songs in this one (versus the 3,083 he had in The Nightmare Before Christmas), the story moves along less by lyrics and more by colloquy. Being a wordy individual myself, this didn't bother me, although I would have liked to hear a few more songs -- even a couple of memorable ones. I recall leaving the theater after seeing The Nightmare Before Christmas for my first time, with at least 2 or 3 of the songs already stuck in my head. If you had a gun to my temple and demanded that I hum you even one tune from Corpse Bride, the only thing stuck in my head would be a bullet. Much like they did in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Danny Elfman's songs feel like filler. Fanboys will flog me for suggesting this, but maybe it's time Tim Burton finds himself a different composer.
*WARNING - Although the ending to the movie is not given away, the next two paragraphs may reveal more about the film than some moviegoers would like to know. If you want to go in relatively spoiler-free, skip the next two paragraphs of this review. Click here to go to safe, spoiler-free territory*
The movie really kicks into gear in its final third. The Corpse Bride is told by Elder Gutknecht (Michael Gough) that her marriage with Victor is technically over, because the contract was only "'til death do us part," and she's already dead. A heartbroken ("can a heart still break once it's stopped beating?") Bride asks if anything can be done. The maggot (Enn Reitel) who, until recently, had resided in the Corpse Bride's decaying brain lets her know that they can poison Victor and re-marry the couple when both the bride and groom are deceased. Victor overhears the conversation and tells the bride that he will kill himself to be with her. They decide to have the suicide/wedding in the Land of the Living and to bring lots of corpse guests. That's when all hell breaks lose. Imagine hopped up Democrats barging in on an uptight Republican convention and you'll get an idea of the chaos that ensues.
When the living stop being afraid and recognize their dearly departed, nearly everyone in the movie and everyone watching it has a smashing good time. This is the ultimate reunion. Could you imagine how great it would be to give your favorite grandpa a great, big hug once again? Okay, now imagine it without thinking about the smell. It would be a blast -- especially if he had tawdry tales from the Land of the Dead to tell you. It's frightfully easy to predict where the movie will end up, but what a ride it is getting there! The last 15 minutes of the film had the audience laughing, clapping and smiling like goons. The energy on display in that last quarter hour makes you admire the filmmakers for holding back as long as they did. They obviously wanted to go all ADD on us, but not before setting up the rules and properly telling the story.
*It's okay for those of you not wanting any spoilers to read again. Don't forget to go back and catch the last two paragraphs after seeing the film.*
All in all, Corpse Bride is a visual feast for the eyes and worth the full price of admission to see the view. Not since Sleepy Hollow has a Tim Burton movie looked and felt so much like a Tim Burton movie. The voice acting by the entire cast is top-notch. The directing (by Tim Burton and Mike Johnson) is subdued when necessary and bursting-at-the-seams, ready to explode when needed. The set design is breathtaking and the animation is above and beyond just about anything you've ever seen before. People may be disappointed with the briefness of the film, lack of memorable songs and fairly weak character development (why they couldn't have removed the pointless and annoying Barkis Bittern character and used the time to further develop the more worthwhile roles is beyond me); but they will probably be having too good a time to even care. There's irony to be found in the fact that it took a movie about a bunch of corpses to breathe a breath of fresh air into what has turned out to be a stagnant year for family films. Don't miss this one.
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