September 26, 2005

Corpse Bride 4 Stars

Print More

Staring Johnny Depp, this playful Burtonian claymation musical is charmingly childlike with a similarly charming ending. The stick figures with enormous eyes and enlargened features that are classic of Burton’s films do not get old. In fact, the characters from Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride and their attributes which he emphasizes are even more delightfully peculiar than his previous films.

Like many comedies, this film begins with a clumsy protagonist who embarrasses himself constantly. In this case, Victor (Depp), from new money, is to be wed to Victoria (Emily Watson) (oh, how adorable), from old money, except their funds have run dry. Victor’s family is to gain new esteem by being associated with old money, and Victoria’s family will gain a ladder out of the poor house.

Victor and his family go to meet Victoria and his in-laws-to-be. Both sets of parents are of such hilarious extremes (in weight, height, and in character), that it is a wonder their children are at all normal or pleasant. Although Victor and Victoria exchange enough kind words to get sweet on each other (about 30-40), Victor embarrasses himself and earns such horror from Victoria’s parents that he leaves their house as quickly as possible. Like many animated tales, he goes for a long walk and finds himself in a dark, spooky forest. Here he ponders how lovely Victoria is, realizes he must collect himself and quit being so nervous, and practices his vows with such earnest that he succeeds in saying them entirely correctly!

But just as our clumsy protagonist has succeeded, naturally, something more mournful must occur. In the dead of the Spooky Forest, he has in fact proposed to a dead bride buried right beneath him (Helena Bonham Carter). She whisks him down to the Underworld where they, to her understanding, are to live happily, morbidly, ever after.

What makes Corpse Bride so entertaining is that the bounds of reality are lifted, allowing Burton’s imagination to run anywhere, which as his other creative films have proven, is what his mind does best. The idea that of Dead having a world all their own – and not the world of pearly gates and harps and togas – is an area that few have thought to ponder or give life to, and is full of juicy material for creative jokes and laughter.

Burton uses his dark, weird sense of humor in the same way as in The Nightmare Before Christmas, a claymation tale about Halloween characters who take over Christmas. He brings to life the things that we think of as spooky, dark or desperate and gives them thoughts, personalities, and sweet intentions all their own. It is Burton’s sense of humor that does this so well and that can take advantage of the dire jokes that present themselves in the world of the Dead, whose denizens include a man who splits in half (convenient for sidewalks), a maggot who lives inside your head and pretends to be your conscience/shrink, and a cook who was stabbed and always has a knife on hand.

As this is a musical, song and dance take on their own story-telling in this film. In fact, the Dead seem to relish in zoot suit genre a bit too much (think of a one-man-show skeleton named Bonejangles, voiced by composer Danny Elfman).

Victor struggles with finding himself trapped in this world (and in this marriage), but makes nice enough with his Corpse Bride (as heroes do), and eventually makes it back to land of the Living The rest of the story takes more twists and bends, all for the worse, yet then when the story turns for the better it is all the more entertaining to see how it will find its way to a cheery equilibrium.

Archived article by Jill Shemin
Sun Contributor