Tim Burton’s long awaited follow up to 1993’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (and, yes, it really has been that long) is a gruesome tale of love and loss, life and death. Victor Van Dort (voiced by longtime Burton collaborator Johnny Depp) is a man who is on the eve of his arranged wedding to a stranger. When he finally meets his betrothed (named Victoria), he discovers he likes her so much that he becomes unable to recite his marriage vows correctly, and is forbidden from attending his own wedding until he learns them.
That night in the woods, Victor practices, using the trees as mock brides. Unfortunately, the first time he gets his vows completely right, he’s mistakenly placed the wedding ring not on what he thought were dead branches sticking up from the ground, but on the dried hand of a corpse. And that Corpse Bride accepts his unwitting proposal.
Victor has a bit of a problem: He’s married to the wrong woman – a dead one, no less – and is now stuck in a netherworld. As Victoria searches frantically for him, her parents decide to find another man to take their daughter in matrimony.
It’s safe to say you’ll be far ahead of the plot at all times, but “Corpse Bride” is still entertaining to watch. While not as humorous as “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (and not nearly as full of background action), “Corpse” holds pleasures all its own.
First, it’s lovingly shot as a tribute to all those old horror films of the 1930’s and 1940’s. Fans of that era will notice familiar camera angles and subjects (such as an almost obligatory long shot of a carriage crossing a stone bridge). Second, in an interesting visual analogy, Burton and co-director Mike Johnson infuse the Netherworld of “Corpse Bride” with color, while the “real” world of the living is so bland it’s nearly black and white.
Perhaps it’s that “Corpse Bride” is no longer the first time we’ve seen this sort of thing, but it’s just not as jaw-dropping an experience as “Nightmare” was. We get the same skeleton dog, the same skinny protagonist, the same curving lines (the Pastor’s staff, for example, looks exactly like the cliff that Jack Skellington stands on in “Nightmare”). Additionally, the songs by Danny Elfman aren’t as memorable as those in “Nightmare” (there’s not a “What’s This?” in the entire film) but this really is nitpicking, as the movie is still well above the usual fare from Hollywood.
In spite of its “been there, done that” feel, “Corpse Bride” is well worth a watch (it’s the perfect length for a cheaper afternoon matinee), and will be more than worthy of a spot on your home shelf when its released on DVD.
Pros: Bonham Carter is terrific; the little visual puns are fun.
Cons: Feels familiar. But who cares? It’s still great.
Review Rating: 4.25 out of 5 Head Waiters who are really waiters with only a head.
“Corpse Bride” (2005)
Also known as: “”Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride” ”
76 Minutes; UK
Rated PG for some scary images and action, and brief mild language.
Featuring the voice talents of:
Johnny Depp (Victor Van Dort)
Helena Bonham Carter (Corpse Bride)
Emily Watson (Victoria Everglot)
Tracey Ullman (Nell Van Dort/Hildegarde)
Paul Whitehouse (William Van Dort/Mayhew/Paul The Head Waiter)
Joanna Lumley (Maudeline Everglot)
Directed by: Mike Johnson and Tim Burton
Written by: John August and Pamela Pettler (screenplay), with Caroline Thompson
Viewing Format: Theatrical Release.