Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Corpse Bride (Burton, 2005)

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride follows the pattern of so many other Burton projects that have come before it: inventive visuals, mildly amusing quirk, woefully unsatisfying narrative. The first fifteen to twenty minutes in which we are introduced to the film’s universe are the best. I laughed with joy at these fantastic creations with their pale, dour faces and their ridiculously proportioned bodies. It amused me to see that even the horses galloped along on long, thin legs and that the vicar’s neck was pushed forward at a dramatic angle, as if in a state of permanent accusation. Indeed, if we were only to go by still photographs, we might think that Corpse Bride was one of the greatest animated features ever made. The film’s look is to be highly commended.

Unfortunately, Burton and company have saddled this film with an utterly pathetic screenplay that barely has enough content for a third of the film’s already slight runtime. Victor has a really bad wedding rehearsal and then goes off to the dark and creepy woods to practice his vows where he accidentally places the ring on the finger of a female corpse whose hand just happens to be sticking out of the ground. She whisks him away to the land of the dead where death is a cabaret, old chum, complete with endless mortality jokes and a few musical numbers composed by Danny Elfman. Meanwhile, back in the land of the living, a cad of remarkable callousness™ is putting the moves on Victor’s intended wife. Those who have never seen a film before will be SHOCKED by the film’s ending in which Victor either marries the living girl or the corpse and the cad of remarkable callousness™ either gets his comeuppance or goes on doing mean things for the rest of his life.

In the leads, Burton has cast three of the finest film actors of the day in Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter and Emily Watson. Surely, this kind of firepower could have been put to much better use, but Burton is fortunate in that they are able to prevent the proceedings from getting unbearably dull, even as we feel the palpable shift from wonder to tedium. Elfman’s songs don’t help things either. As an orchestral composer and even as a pop songsmith, I enjoy his work; however, there is something about his ‘showtunes’ with their high-pitched toddler-voiced choruses and their in-your-face zaniness that I find entirely grating. Corpse Bride has a few moments of awe-inspiring greatness – the bride emerging from the ground, Victor being whisked back to the land of the dead – but, on the whole, you’d be much better off playing Grim Fandango.



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