Reviewed by: Douglas Downs
|Featuring:||Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Albert Finney, Richard E. Grant|
|Director:||Mike Johnson, Tim Burton|
|Producer:||Tim Burton, Laurie Parker|
Rising to the occasion / There’s been a grave misunderstanding.
Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “Set in a 19th century European village, this stop-motion, animated feature follows the story of Victor, a young man who is whisked away to the underworld and wed to a mysterious Corpse Bride, while his real bride, Victoria, waits bereft in the land of the living. Although life in the Land of the Dead proves to be a lot more colorful than his strict Victorian upbringing, Victor learns that there is nothing in this world, or the next, that can keep him away from his one true love.”
Tim Burton has always been known as a very innovative Director. His films certainly have a style all their own. “Corpse Bride” is no exception. The puppets that he used were made from stainless steel armatures covered with silicon skin. This was also the first stop-motion feature to use the new Apple Final Cut Pro during the editing process. This was also the first feature to be made with commercial digital still photography cameras (Canon SLR cameras with Nikon lenses) instead of film cameras.
The detail in this movie is so refined that it took animators 28 separate shots just to make the bride blink. Mr. Burton used a 55-week shoot, during which 109,000,440 frames had to be set up and filmed. He even used routines from a 1929 film called “Skeleton Dance” to create his own skeletal performance.
I once heard an actor make the passing comment “We all let Tim make movies, because it would be scary to see what he would do other wise.” Yes, his genius is a bit unusual, but the results are always visually stunning. The “Corpse Bride” contains and interesting tongue-in-cheek feel for the confrontation between the living and the very lively dead. This is not one of those ghoulish zombie horror flics. “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride” is whimsical and romantic—although half its characters are the rotting dead—and it has a wacky sensibility to boot.
The headwaiter at an Underworld restaurant really is just a head. A skeleton chorus line does high kicks. And the Corpse Bride of the title is forever dropping a hand, an arm or a leg bone. No wonder the Second-Hand Shoppe sells—you guessed it!—hands.It’s all accomplished with stop-motion puppets, which Burton used so effectively in 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, a film he co-wrote with Caroline Thompson and produced, but did not direct.
This time Burton co-directed (with Mike Johnson) at the same time he was filming his hit Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, taking along that film’s star, Johnny Depp, as the hapless hero who accidentally wins the heart of a dead woman on the day before he is to be married to someone else. “Corpse Bride” was written by Nightmare’s Thompson, plus John August and Pamela Pettler. The music is alright and they do help to advance the plot. Yes, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” fans.Danny Elfman composed the music for this movie too.
The “Corpse Bride” certainly resurrects the spirit of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (though with an even better look because the jerky stop-motion movements of the characters, in which the camera is stopped and the figures rearranged, have been smoothed out digitally).
It also has the eerily goofy tone of The Nightmare Before Christmas, which revolves around Jack Skellington, the long dead skeletal hero of Halloweentown, who accidentally discovers Christmastown and decides to bring all its merriment home by taking over the role of Santa Claus.
Burton clearly delineates the Land of the Living—in this case Victorian England—from the Land of the Dead by emphasizing blues and grays and dull mauves in the color palette of the human world, while the Land of the Dead is presented in festive, gay tones.
It’s up above where Victor (voice by Depp) has been forced by his social-climbing mother and fish-canner father into an arranged marriage to the wispy Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson), a young woman he has never laid eyes on, but who comes from a long socially stellar line.
That Victoria’s parents are down to their last shilling is a fact Victor Van Dort and his parents aren’t aware of, nor is anyone else, for that matter. Although Victoria’s parents Maudeline (Joanna Lumley of Absolutely Fabulous) and Finis Everglot (Albert Finney) are unpleasantly disdainful of their intended nouveau riche in-laws, they need the money. “How could our family have come to this?” moans Maudeline upon meeting the unprepossessing Victor.
A spoiler turns up at the wedding rehearsal in the dashingly pompous form of Lord Barkis Bittern (Richard E. Grant). The rehearsal turns chaotic when Victor can’t remember his lines and the austere, long-faced pastor (Christopher Lee) sends Victor off into the night, humiliated, to learn his vows.
Victor dashes off to the woods, where he accidentally meets the Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter, who is Burton’s real-life love). A woman who’d been left at the altar and later murdered for her jewels by her intended bridegroom, she comes to believe that Victor has proposed to her!
To add to the fun, the Corpse Bride, whose name is Emily, is a dead ringer—pardon the expression—for Angelina Jolie, or at least an Angelina Jolie with a chunk missing from her cheek and a worm with the voice of Peter Lorre popping out of an eye socket from time to time. (Maudeline Everglot looks very much like the wicked stepmother in Walt Disney’s Cinderella.)
It’s not long before the terrified and befuddled Victor begins to like the more cheerful and open atmosphere of the Underworld, a big change from the stifling world of Victorian England. After all, there are those high-kicking skeletons, the rainbow of colors, the ghoulish fun and someone to love him for himself, no matter if her eyeball occasionally falls out.
But can a marriage between a living man and a dead woman have much of a future? It’s a question “Corpse Bride” gets to, well, the bottom of in a nifty series of one-liners, inventive sight gags and wild insanity. The Underworld looks a bit like the environs of Halloweentown, and the funny bits come so fast you might have to see it again.
Burton and Co. are having a ball and run with the concept. The Underworld, after all, is such a happy place that “people are dying to get down here.” The piano Victor plays is a Harryhausen, an insider joke that pays tribute to master stop-motion animation genius Ray Harryhausen. When Emily falls for Victor she explains that he “takes my breath away… or would if I had any.”
Yet with all this daffiness, “Corpse Bride” maintains a wistful, sentimental tone. There is left-behind Victoria, after all. In her brief moments with Victor she has discovered her soulmate. And that gives all the film’s craziness a grounding in the real world of the living that’s touching and heartfelt. I do not agree with Burton’s concept of death, but I did enjoy this piece of rare cinematography.
Violence: None / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Minor