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2005, dir. Tim Burton & Mike Johnson
76 min, Rated PG.
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Richard E. Grant

Review by Noel Wood

It may be a stretch to lump Tim Burton's latest offering in with the zombie fare that's being featured on the site at the moment, but it is a few weeks before Halloween, so it's still appropriate for the season. Besides, the movie does feature dead people coming from the grave and walking amongst the living, although they don't appear to eat any human flesh while they're above ground. So it sorta kinda only slightly resembles a zombie film. Besides, I didn't want to wait until November to post a review of this sucker.

There were few films I was looking forward to more than Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. It wound up on my list of "Reasons why 2005 Might Rule" on the year-end thingy in January, and I've been pretty excited about it since. After a few missteps (Read: Planet of the Apes) Burton seemed to back on track. Big Fish was a pleasant surprise, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory kicked more ass than I ever would have expected. So how else could I feel about Burton's return to the world of stop-motion animation?

So, if we consummate, does that constitute necrophelia?

I knew not to go in to this film anticipating a sequel to The Nightmare Before Christmas. Anyone who does will be sadly disappointed, actually. Because really, outside of the fact that they're both animated in the same style, they don't have a lot in common. The stories are entirely unique, the styles are completely different, and the overall tone of the two films is night and day.

Corpse Bride is the story of an arranged marriage that takes place in a small village sometime in the yesteryear (not quite in the days of yore.) It's a Tim Burton film, which of course means that it's all wintry and covered in snow. Groom-to-be Victor has been offered by his riche nouveau parents to marry Bride-to-be Victoria, the daughter of two busted aristocrats. Victoria's parents are relying on the marriage to save them from the poor house, but that's just their little secret. Victor and Victoria meet the night before the wedding, and seem to be taken by each other immediately.

Victor seems a bit too clumsy to get through the ceremony, so he wanders off into the night to practice his vows. Through his actions in the woods, he accidentally finds himself caught up in holy matrimony with a poor little dead girl. Meanwhile, the smarmy Lord Barkis has found his way to the nuptials, and in Victor's absence, he offers his hand in marriage to Victoria.

Victor meets a whole crew of dead folk while trying to sort out his own ordeal with the Corpse Bride, who he actually seems to have more in common with than his own living bride-to-be. Meanwhile, we start to put the pieces of the puzzle together -- just who exactly this lord Barkis is and how he connects to the rest of our players and how our blue-skinned living dead girl got to be in the position she's found herself in.

The way that this world is presented is an interesting and ironic dichotomy. The world of the living is bleak and dark and grey, almost looking as if it were shot in black and white. Everyone in the world of the living seems dull and depressed all the time. Meanwhile, the underworld, the world of the dead, is vibrant and colorful and its inhabitants seem full of life. Only Tim Burton could pull off something so seemingly bass-ackward and make it work so well.

As I said, you can't go in to Corpse Bride expecting another Nightmare, but you can't help but draw comparisons. A few of the songs, using that old Danny Elfman magic, have that same familiar tone to them. Some of the actions feel a bit familiar as well. But this film does fall just a bit short of expectations.

It's cute. It's also a little creepy, and in a good way. But the characters in Corpse Bride lack the charm that you remember from Jack Skellington and Sally. The secondary characters don't quite have the same bite to them either. The songs, although not as integral to the story as the ones in Nightmare, aren't nearly as memorable or catchy as their counterparts. But don't let all of this fool you -- just because something is slighty less perfect than Burton's earlier stop-motion masterpiece doesn't make it bad. It's just a lot different. In many ways, that's a good thing.

If anything can be said, it's that the animation has vastly improved. From the early previews, I actually thought this film was animated with CG rather than stop motion, but that's just not the case. The animation is much smoother here than in Nightmare, and there are a ton of new tricks with cameras and lighting that really make this one a visual treat. Burton actually co-directed this one, unlike his previous collaborations with Henry Selick, Nightmare and James and the Giant Peach.

For an animated film, Burton has amassed quite a cast. Of course, Johnny Depp takes the lead role of Victor, and Burton's own flame Helena Bonham Carter voices the title bride Emily. Several other Burton regulars show up here as well, including Michael Gough, Albert Finney, Christopher Lee, and Deep Roy. On top of those names, Emily Watson, Joanna Lumley, Tracy Ullman, and Richard E. Grant are all on board as well.

When it's all said and done, Burton has created yet another chunk of genius. Sure, it's not the best thing he's ever done, but the amount of labor involved in making this film alone makes it a masterpiece. Although I'd rank it low on a zombie scale, I'd put it pretty high on a list of animated films.


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