With an imagination large enough for a dozen grade schoolers hopped up on Ho-Ho’s and Mountain Dew, Tim Burton is the go-to guy if you’re in the mood for bizarre stories. Whether they are his own stories (Edward Scissorhands) or his take on other work (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), Burton consistently delivers eye candy with originality.
Corpse Bride, his first animated film since writing and producing 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, continues Burton’s adventures into the strange and morbid. Using stop-motion animation techniques with Canon SLR cameras and edited with robust Final Cut Pro, Burton and co-director Mike Johnson have crafted one of the most visually unique films ever made. The dark blues, the blacks, the contrast, the misshapen characters; this is all vintage Burton and this is his most ambitious project in years.
Victor Van Dort (voiced by Johnny Depp) is a typical young man nervous about marriage. He has good reason, as he is part of an arranged marriage between the Van Dort and Everglot families. Victoria Everglot (voiced by Emily Watson) is also nervous about the proposition, but it is Victor who keeps fumbling his vows during the rehearsal. After being told that the wedding cannot take place without him mastering the lines, Victor heads out to the nearby forest/cemetery to practice. By happenstance, Victor places the ring on a deceased boney finger, only to have the Corpse Bride (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter) come alive! The Corpse Bride believes that Victor’s actions were intentional, and Victor soon finds himself “down” where the dead live. The dead mostly drink, sing, and stab each other with swords (they don’t have skin, after all, and they can’t feel a thing). Torn between his Corpse Bride and Victoria, Victor must make trips to and from the living and the dead in order to solve his predicament.
Burton and his cohorts seamlessly mesh musical and narrative elements to create fabulous environments. The music is scored by Burton regular Danny Elfman and his music is among the most recognizable in Hollywood. The tone is set from the get-go, and in the very brief 78 minute runtime there is nary a dull moment.
There will inevitably be “style over substance” debates and that is not uncalled for. This is not one of the more compelling Burton films from a story standpoint, but the fact remains that this is still a perfect, brooding vehicle for his talents. Plus, the film is geared more towards kids, and for parents this could be an extra treat since there is a lot of imagination on display here. While maintaining a PG rating, there are plenty of visuals that may disturb young children.
Longtime readers may know that I frequently have issues with animated films that tout a laundry list of A-list stars who are contributing their voices. More often than not, moviegoers spend the whole time trying to place voices and it really serves as more of a distraction than anything. Not so here, as Johnny Depp is easily the biggest name on display. He contributes a weary, nervous voice for Victor that would probably be unrecognizable of we didn’t know it was Depp. That’s not to take anything away from Emily Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Tracy Ullman, and the other talented individuals involved with the production. No one “steals the show,” per se, but the voice talent is of very high quality.
Corpse Bride is Burton’s second film of this year alone, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it earned an Oscar nod in the Animation category. Projects this anomalous deserve such recognition and I think that young and old alike will have their imaginations exercised.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 78 Minutes
Rating: PG for some scary images and action, and brief mild language.
Theatrical Release: September 16, 2005 (Limited) / September 23, 2005 (Wide)
Directed by: Tim Burton & Mike Johnson
Written by: John August & Pamela Pettler & Caroline Thompson.
Cast: Johnny Depp (voice), Helena Bonham Carter (voice), Emily Watson (voice), Tracey Ullman (voice), Paul Whitehouse (voice), Joanna Lumley (voice)