You can disqualify me from reviewing “Corpse Bride” if you want to, because I never cared much for “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” the 1993 stop-motion animation film that is in many ways its progenitor. So it could be that my lack of fervent enthusiasm for the new film is due to a similar case of just not “getting” it.
As you may know, “Corpse Bride” was painstakingly made using models of the characters which are positioned, photographed, moved slightly, photographed again, and so on, thousands and thousands of times. The feats involved in creating such a film weigh heavily on my mind as I watch it. All the effort involved! Such a tedious process, yet so creative, too. Think of the imagination necessary to put together something like this.
Unfortunately, I was thinking about all of this because my mind was wandering away from the content of the film, which is creative but not altogether genius. The movie is clever, but not particularly funny. It has a few songs, but it’s not really a “musical.” It’s OK, but it’s not great.
It’s the gothic tale of quiet young Victor Van Dort (voice of Johnny Depp), whose nouveau-riche parents have arranged a marriage between him and Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson), daughter of a loathsome Lord and Lady whom the Van Dorts mistakenly believe are still rich. After a nerve-wracking wedding rehearsal, Victor goes for a walk in the woods and, while practicing his vows, accidentally proposes marriage to … a corpse. The corpse of a woman named Emily (Helena Bonham Carter), specifically, who has lain dormant waiting for her true love to come along and marry her. And now he has! Sort of!
She whisks Victor down to the world of the dead, where skeletons and half-eaten bodies live a merry life (well, not “life,” really, but you know what I mean) apart from the “breathers” up on the surface. Victor is terrified, but from a purely objective viewpoint, these dead people are enjoying themselves far more than the stiffs in Victor’s dull village do. I note that while the scenes among the living are in dreary grays, the dead are in full color.
A sort of triangle develops then, between Emily the Corpse Bride, Victoria the living one, and Victor, who was beginning to feel a fondness for Victoria but who is sympathetic to Emily’s plight, too. Victoria’s sour parents (voiced by Joanna Lumley and Albert Finney) have a few things to say about it the “unfaithful” Victor and this other woman, since their plan to marry their daughter to a rich family has been thwarted.
It’s all a Tim Burton production, as you know, and it has all the morbid pleasures of one. Burton co-directed with animator Mike Johnson, and while he doesn’t officially get story credit (the screenplay is by Pamela Pettler, Caroline Thompson and John August), the idea has been rattling around that odd head of his for a decade. Danny Elfman provides the music, of course, and many of the cast members are Burton regulars, too, including some whom he persuaded to do double duty when he had them on hand for “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
The last 15 minutes are terrific, actually, as the dead join the living and the oddball humor bounces off the walls like stink off a corpse. Prior to that much-needed enlivening, the film is fanciful and whimsical, but only marginally entertaining. It’s the kind of movie you see, not the kind you see again.
B- (1 hr., 16 min.; )