Even the dead fall in love ... and only Tim Burton can make a tale about a smitten corpse so delightfully endearing.
A dark masterpiece that proves the creative force behind classics “Beetlejuice”, “Edward Scissorhands” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” can still deliver, “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride” is more fun than a grave full of giggling ghouls.
Based on a Russian folktale and set against a garishly grim Victorian backdrop, this engaging story follows a hapless groom seemingly doomed to wed a dead woman. With enough droll epigrams and ghastly gags to make Edgar Allan Poe chuckle, “Corpse Bride” serves up a fantastic phantasmagoria of weird romance and macabre amusement.
The movie opens with two sets of parents determined to unite their children in marriage for selfish reasons. Initially reluctant, bashful Victor Van Dort (voiced by Johnny Depp) immediately falls for shy Victoria Everglots (voiced by Emily Watson). All might go according to plan, but Victor’s frazzled nerves ruin the wedding rehearsal.
Victor soon finds himself wandering through a creepy forest practicing his vows, having been temporarily banished by an authoritarian pastor (tyrannically voiced by veteran actor Christopher Lee). Poor Victor slips the ring on what appears to be a gnarled tree limb jutting from the ground. Surprise! The branch is actually the slightly decayed finger of a young woman murdered while waiting for a former suitor. Poor Victor has inadvertently married the Corpse Bride (voiced by Helena Bonham-Carter).
From here, the audience is swept along with Victor to the Land of the Dead, where Oingo Boingo founder Danny Elfman hams it up as Bonejangles, the frontman for an all-skeleton jazz ensemble. Elfman, Burton’s favorite composer, delivers the movie’s crucial score with customary genius, breathing life into the puppet-like characters and making it likely that “Corpse Bride” will some day be reanimated on Broadway.
Created with the meticulous stop-motion animation used to produce childhood seasonal classics like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “The Year Without a Santa Claus” and also employed more recently in “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, “Corpse Bride” is a whimsical cross between a Rankin/Bass production and Edward Gorey nightmare. Burton’s team inconspicuously enhances the animation with computer-generated imagery, making it smooth and seamless without degrading it into something that seems more like a video game than a feature film.
The fact that this feature is animated, incidentally, should not deter adults. Neither an infantile cartoon (it is rated PG) nor an abstract art house film, “Corpse Bride” contains elements to appeal to all audiences, young and old. The macabre aspects are generally more humorous than morbid. As for the romance, Burton’s masterful storytelling and direction makes the Corpse Bride as lovable a character as Victoria, underscoring the emotional turmoil poor Victor must endure as he determines his destiny.
With its Gothic gilding and graveyard humor, “Corpse Bride” is destined to be another Burton classic.