Anders Bergstrom's blog on Words, Films, and Music

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride marks a return to what he does best, which is creating imaginative and wondrous worlds. Which is why, despite my disappointments sometimes at Burton's storytelling, I keep coming back to his films. Corpse Bride is no exception to this, and pushes the stylistic envelope further than Burton has since Sleepy Hollow. Burton's own Nightmare Before Christmas showed how well Burton's gothically-styled imagination worked so well in animated form (specifically stop-motion animation; however, see Luke's blog for a more detailed, insider look at how incredible this style is. Now, over a decade later, Burton returns to animation, and the result is possibly the best Burton film since.

Corpse Bride concerns the story of Victor (Johnny Depp) the shy son of a rich fish merchant, who is promised in marriage to the daughter of a penniless aristocrat. As the characters themselves note, this merging of "old blood with nouveau riche" marks the setting of the film as well, a indeterminate 19th Century, Dickensian world of drab stone streets and skeletal forests. Upon meeting his bride, Victoria (Emily Watson), the two realize they could be happy together, but Victor has difficulties in remembering his vows. Out in the woods, while practicing his vows, Victor accidentally slips the ring onto the finger of the murdered corpse bride (Helena Bonham-Carter AKA Mrs. Burton). With this simple act, Victor is plunged into her world: the world of the dead.

In this film the world of the dead is less frightening and more visually dazzling. Contrasted against the cold whites and dark stone of the living world, the world of the dead is awash in bright greens, reds and blues. The corpses and skeletons who inhabit this world are charming in their own ghoulish ways, and engage in lively song and dance numbers written and sung by Danny Elfman as Mr. Bonejangles. There's something about dancing skeletons that seems so fun, recalling classic Disney and the work of Ray Harryhausen (watch for his name in the film). The sequences of charming skeletons, bright colours and Elfman's music reminded me several times of a fantastic video game for Playstation called MediEvil II and how much fun it was to play that game. The world of the dead is more fun than the world of the living in Burton's film.

Of course, Victor cannot remain in the land of the dead with his corpse bride. In the meantime Victoria has her own complications with an aggressive (and mysterious) suitor, Lord Barkis. If there's a fault to be found in the film, it's the abrupt ending and non-existent denouement that leaves the film feeling a little bit short (probably a result of the extreme labour that mere minutes of this form of animation requires). However, the film is focused enough, and the story (lifted from a Russian folktale) charming enough that one is likely to forgive it.

Burton should stick to doing films like this, drawing on his own imagination, rather than trying things that are either beyond his storytelling abilities (Big Fish) or odd mergers of creative styles (Charlie and the chocolate Factory). He assembles an outstanding cast here, including Albert Finney and Christopher Lee in standout roles, yet never allows even his biggest star, Johnny Depp, to draw us out of the animated reality (the way recent "stunt" casting in animated films often does). For that, and for making the best Halloween film since his own Sleepy Hollow, I'm willing to forgive any recent disappointments.


GoldNboy said...

Anders, Corpse Bride was pretty good but nothing spectacular. The movie was actually longer than it needed to be. It seemed really crammed but I guess how much can you do with a story like this. The best part were the dancing skeletons and the guy with the bowler hat. And Ander's, saying that this is his best movie since Sleepy Hollow is no high praise.

Anders said...

True Aren, but it's been such a tepid time at the movie theatres in the last month or so that this film does really stand out, at least visually. And for me, visuals are films raison d'ĂȘtre, I think it should count for more than whether or not the story was a little thin. Which it was, which is why I'd end up giving Corpse Bride 3 or 3½ stars and not 4.