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Tim Burton's Corpse Bride Print E-mail
Wednesday, 01 November 2006

Image Director Tim Burton is known for his view askew when it comes to movies. He broke out with “Beetle Juice” and slammed through the first two Batman movies of the 1980s, one of which was well-received and the other arrived amid controversy. Throughout his career, Burton has always followed his own interests and passions. He gave us “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and the latest incarnation of Willie Wonka, starring Johnny Depp, an actor who is just as well known for his own bizarre acting.

Burton has an ongoing relationship with Depp. They did “Edward Scissorhands”, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” together, and are scheduled to reunite for the “Sweeney Todd” movie musical. They work well together, each of them bringing brilliance to their various roles in a movie.

“Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride” is a simple story of innocent love, and you could describe and what happens in a single sentence. The fact that Burton develops a 77-minute movie out of it, and introduces two very different worlds is a tribute to his skill as a visionary.

Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp) is a quiet, introverted young man who has an interest in science, art, and music. His parents, two of the city’s newly rich, have arranged a marriage for him. His wife-to-be is Victoria (voiced by Emily Watson), an equally quiet and reticent young woman, the daughter of old money in the town.

The world Victor inhabits seems to be European, and the time period is probably at least a couple hundred years ago. The look of the town is stark and simple, a storybook village with a long history and not much future. The Land of the Dead, on the other hand, is bright and cheerful, and the inhabitants there can do pretty much whatever they want to do. Music plays a large part in both worlds. However, the music in the land of the living is more of an organized musical than the raucous tunes in the Land of the Dead. Danny Elfman, Hollywood’s perennial favorite musician and soundtrack artist does the honors here. Elfman also gets a voice part, starring as Bonjangles, the pitchman in the Land of the Dead.

The marriage is a sham, though, because Victoria’s parents are broke and are offering their daughter’s hand in marriage because they need money. Love doesn’t work into the equation at all. However, Victor arrives and wins Victoria over through music, one of the most important aspects of the film. We can easily see how alike they are, and how vulnerable.

Later, when Victor can’t memorize his vows, the priest sends him away, telling him that he isn’t ready to get married. Victor walks out of town, practicing his lines repeatedly. He finally gets them right. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know he’s standing over the body of a murdered bride-to-be when he does.

When the Corpse Bride’s hand reaches out to grab Victor’s arm, the scene turns creepy. It’s amazing how quickly the feeling of success flips over to one of horror, but that’s part of the twisted, hypnotic magic that Burton touches his creations with. Before he knows what’s going on, Victor finds himself married to the Corpse Bride (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter). He tries to run from her and ends up passing out in fright, then awakening in the Land of the Dead.

The Land of the Dead is different than the world of the living. Everything there is more vibrant and colorful, and the music is much more “alive”. The singing numbers are a blast, and the slapstick involving the dead is a hoot. Some of the physical gags border on gross and might not be suitable for younger children in spite of the PG rating. (The maggot that inhabits the Corpse Bride’s eye comes immediately to mind.)

The Corpse Bride could have been played as a villain, but instead she’s a victim as much as Victor and Victoria. She simply wants to be loved. In death, she’s after the same thing most people are while alive.

Johnny Depp is known for his portrayal of over-the-top characters (Edward Scissorhands, Crybaby, Jack Sparrow, and Willy Wonka). As a change of pace, he plays Victor very straight-laced and small, never once stepping out of character or stealing a scene that isn’t his.

Emily Watson delivers a very demure and quiet Victoria. She comes across as a waif, a young woman who has survived the selfish, unforgiving storm of her parents.

The Corpse Bride is the most magnetic character in the movie. Helena Bonham Carter delivers a moving portrayal of a young woman who was not only murdered, but also suffered the death of her dreams. She’s the only character in the story that changes.

HD DVD Video: The HD-DVD presentation is crystal clear, revealing the normal world and the Land of the Dead in splendor. Burton’s stop-motion animation presentation never misses a step.

HD DVD Audio: Since “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride” was an Academy Award nominee and a National Board of Review Award winner as 2005’s Best Animated Feature, especially since it’s so musically driven, it seems it would have made sense to present it in a Lossless format. It wasn’t. The Dolby Digital Plus is quite good, but with the HD DVD format capable of so much more, it’s a shame that the production didn’t get the full treatment.

The special features on the disc primarily focus on the two worlds, the living and the dead, and tend to get a little repetitive. However, there’s a lot of great information on the animation that went into the making of the movie. The feature on the voice work was a lot of fun to watch too.

“Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride” is a great little film with a message about hope and love, but the gross nature of the inhabitants of the Land of the Dead might warrant parents of small children viewing the movie themselves to make a judgment on whether or not it’s appropriate to show to the younger kids. The PG rating on this one can be a little misleading given the subject matter.

Tim Burton has had a great touch with family fare from the beginning of his career. He has an innate bizarre sense that lends itself to strange characters, situations, and worlds. In a succession of movies, his taste for the unusual had brought audiences into the theaters “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride” will probably stand out as one of his better, more worthy achievements. Burton and Depp fans will definitely want this one for their collections, and the HD DVD is hitting the shelves just in time for Halloween.

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