Saturday, September 24, 2005

REVIEW: Tim Burton's Corpse Bride

If you should happen to attend a showing of Tim Burton's latest and notice a fellow patron with a manic grin, rubbing his hands together gleefully, don't be alarmed: Chances are it's just the owner of your local "Hot Topic" thinking about the new addition to his house that sales of "Corpse Bride" licensed merchandise to the emo/goth set is going to buy for him. "Can a heart still break once it's stopped beating?," one of the film's signature lines, may as well be subtitled "coming soon to a sullen teenager's diary near you."

Yes, it's a marketing phenom in the making. BUT, it's also a fine, fine little movie, so all that is easily forgiven.

It's been a banner couple of weeks for necrophilia, what with Mark Ruffalo falling for Reese Witherspoon's ghost in "Just Like Heaven" and now this: Shy, sensitive Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) is betrothed to Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson) as arranged by their parents. His are newly-rich fish merchants (the setting is Victorian England) counting on the marriage to raise them into high society, hers are bankrupt aristocrats counting on it to bail them out of destitution. Luckily, the kids charm the heck out of eachother right away, but Victor has a rough time memorizing the lines for the ceremony. Taking a walk in the woods to practice them, he slips the ring onto a tree branch for a prop... only to discover that the "branch" is actually the skeletal arm of a dead girl in a wedding dress. Named Emily, the titular corpse bride (Helena Bonham Carter) claws her way up from the dirt and promptly accepts what she assumes to be Victor's proposal of marriage.

All Victor wants is to get back to Victoria, but that's easier said than done: Emily is a bit on the posessive side, travel between the world of the living and the dead is easier said than done, (for the most part,) a rival for Victoria emerges in Lord Barkis Bittern and, complicating matters, there's a bit of mystery as to exactly how Emily wound up dead in the first place. But the real problem is that Victor does quite quickly develop feelings for the charming and distressingly attractive corpse bride herself.

Burton's welcome return to the realm of stop-motion animation wisely avoids similairities to the earlier "Nightmare Before Christmas," this time around the visual palette is playing heavily on design-as-metaphor: The world of the living is monochromatic, stiff and dark as a commentary on it's rigidly-structured Victorian setting; while the world of the dead is a Jazz-infused, rollicking place rendered in full color. Minimalism is a constant theme, as sparse trees and lonely buildings dot smooth-hilled landscapes unafraid of betraying their model origins.

In a way, looking like a living play-set is necessary for the film to function: Rendered in live-action or a more fluid form of animation, much of the humor found at the sake of corpses, bones and bodies would likely be too grotesque to maintain the fairytale-like tone. Emily, for example, has one arm and one leg comprised only of bone, a pop-out eyeball, exposed ribs and a worm that lives in her skull. Yet here, amid a cast who are all exagerrated grotesques in one way or another, she's able to look much more "eerie" than scary; and at times she's even just plain attractive... as puppets go. (It's worth noting that the modelers have invested both Emily and Victoria with oddly Maxim-esque figures.)

If the film has a flaw, it's that it's a bit too short. At 75 minutes, it stays on pace and gets about it's business with great efficiency, but some of it does seem to rush by. Certain segments, such as Victor's renunion with his deceased childhood pet or the visit by Emily's fellow undead to the living world just seem to cry out for greater room to breathe (though the later DOES contain a really adorable gag that's an instant classic of zombie comedy.)

Overall, though, this is everything so many were hoping it would be. It's creepy, lovely, well crafted, a great piece for families and just plain fun to watch. Definately reccomended.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ok as a huge fan of everything else Tim Burton has done, esspecially Vincent and the Nightmare Before Christmas im sure Corpse Bride will be amazing, but yes the fact that it only runs for 75 minutes is a disgrace, a huge let down...