Tim Burton's Corpse Bride Review
By Shawn McKenzie 09/26/2005
Ever since his first movie, 1985’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Tim Burton has been making some original, twisted kiddie flicks. With Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, he continues making odd entertainment that is fun for kids and adults.
Somewhere in a generic Victorian village in the 19th century, Victor Van Dort (voice of Johnny Depp) is a shy young man who has been promised by his working class fish merchant parents, Nell (voice of Tracey Ullman) and William Van Dort (voice of Paul Whitehouse), to marry Victoria Everglot (voice of Emily Watson.) Victoria is the daughter of Maudeline (voice of Joanna Lumley) and Finis Everglot (voice of Albert Finney), who are snobbish, but penniless (though no one knows this yet.) Ironically, the Everglots look down on Victor, but they want his money (the Van Dorts want the Everglots’ title, since they had money a long time ago.) Both Victor and Victoria have never met one another before, and they are both nervous about getting married. They meet, and it is fortunately it is love at first sight while they play the piano together (Victoria isn’t a snob like her parents.) During the wedding rehearsal, Victor continually flubs the wedding vows and temporarily loses the ring (which results in him accidentally setting Maudeline’s dress on fire), which frustrates their clergyman, Pastor Galswells (voice of Christopher Lee), to no end. He orders Victor to go away and rehearse them until he gets them down perfectly. As the Town Crier (voice of Enn Reitel) announces his disastrous wedding rehearsals, Victor heads off into the dark forest surrounding the village to practice just that. Once he is alone, his lines become clearer, and he practices putting the ring on what he thinks is just a root of a tree. Unfortunately, it is the skeletal hand of the Corpse Bride, a.k.a. Emily (voice of Helena Bonham Carter), who accepts his offer of marriage. She had been murdered by her groom-to-be on their wedding day, and so she just wants to be married period. Victor runs into a tree and faints, and he wakes up in the Land of the Dead, which is ironically livelier than his village. He tries to take a hostage to get some answers, but he calms down when they give them to him. The hostage, General Bonesapart (voice of Deep Roy), and the leader of the house band at the Ball and Socket Club called The Skeletones, Bonejangles (voice of Danny Elfman), fill Victor in on Emily’s story. She and her intended were going to elope, but the beau told her to give him as much loot out of her parents’ house as she could. Once she gave it to him, he murdered her and took the loot. When she arrived in the Land of the Dead, she vowed not to rest until true love came, and she thinks that Victor is her true love. He tries to run again, but Emily catches up to him. They talk, with occasional interruptions from Maggot (also the voice of Enn Reitel), a Peter Lorre-looking and sounding worm that lives in her head, and she gives him a wedding gift. The gift is his old dead dog Scraps, who is now just bones. When she finds out that his parents are still alive, he gets the idea that she should meet them. The only way to get back to the Land of the Living is with the assistance of Elder Gutknecht (voice of Michael Gough), the local shaman. The Elder puts a spell on them to whisk them away to the Land of the Living, but he tells her that if she wants to come back, she needs to say the word “hopscotch.” Once they are in the Land of the Living, Victor tells her to stay in the forest while he goes back to his parents to bring them back there. Victor goes to Victoria’s house to see her, but Emily has followed him, and she brings him back to the Land of the Dead. She is depressed that Victor doesn’t seem to be as into her as she is into him, and she discusses this with Maggot and a black-widowed spider (voice of Jane Horrocks.) Meanwhile, even though she is still in love with Victor, Victoria’s parents still want her to get married to someone, and they choose a single family friend named Lord Barkis Bittern (voice of Richard E. Grant), who is more than willing to marry her and get her dowry, not knowing that it no longer exists. Victor’s parents’ driver, Mayhew (also the voice of Paul Whitehouse), dies from smoking, and once he arrives in the Land of the Dead, he tells Victor that Victoria is going to marry Lord Barkis. There is a loophole in Victor’s marriage to Emily, which means that he can leave whenever he wants, but he has to decide if he wants to stay with Emily as he had promised, or go back to Victoria, his true love.
This is the second movie that Burton has directed this year, with the other one being Charlie and the Chocolate Factory of course…another twisted kiddie flick. Actually, he co-directed this one with Mike Johnson, who has a long history of stop-motion animation. He directed episodes of the FOX/WB TV show “The PJs,” and he animated 1993’s Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and 1996’s James and the Giant Peach. Nightmare was not directed by Burton as some people seem to think. Henry Selick, whose credits include Peach and the awful 2001 movie Monkeybone, directed it. Burton did produce and write the story though. As for Corpse Bride, Burton didn’t produce or write the script. I’m guessing that he was concentrating more on Charlie, because this movie isn’t quite as good as that live action book adaptation in the story department.
For one thing, the singing was inconsistent. Burton’s long-time musical director, Elfman, wrote all of the original music. I normally don’t have a problem with singing in animated movies, but it was actually distracting here. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the singing stopped altogether in the last fourth of the movie. No last showpiece…no nothing. They should have just cut out all of the singing completely. The songs in Nightmare were much better.
The vocal performances were fine. Victor was such a stale character that Depp didn’t get to stretch his vocal acting chops. Burton’s long-time fiancé Carter does the best job, but it’s probably because the character is so interesting. The usually hilarious Ullman didn’t get much of a chance to show off her skills either. Lumley, who is most famous for playing Patsy in the British sitcom “Absolutely Fabulous,” gets a few fun lines.
It’s odd that the two forms of animation now are computer animation and stop-motion animation (apparently traditional animation has gone bye-bye; claymation might make a comeback though with next month’s Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.) It doesn’t matter, because, despite the jerky movements of stop-motion animation, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is still an enjoyable flick. I know that this review has been overall negative, but I actually liked it a lot, because kid movies this year haven’t been that good. Speaking of kids, don’t worry…unless they are emotionally fragile, the movie won’t scare them. It’s no scarier than FOX Kids’ “Goosebumps” or NBC’s “Eerie, Indiana” from the ‘90s. It is a little more ghoulish than Nightmare, but not by much. This would be fun one to take the kids to before Halloween rolls around next month.
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