Teenage Goth girls, feel free to rejoice. There's finally something new to buy at Hot Topic. Tim Burton, high priest of all that is oddball, offbeat and scary-cute, has finally completed Corpse Bride, his long-awaited follow-up to 1993's The Nightmare Before Christmas. Rest assured, heavily pierced stock clerks are working overtime to get Corpse Bride merchandise onto store shelves nationwide.
After struggling (pointlessly, in many people's estimations) to shoehorn his quirky visions into more “mainstream” territory (Planet of the Apes, Big Fish), Burton seems to have had a return to roots this year with the release of the magnificently handled Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Now, besotted to the gills with Edgar Allan Poe, Edward Gorey and Charles Addams, Burton has gifted us with another macabre musical--and inspiration for at least one costume at whatever Halloween party you choose to attend this year.
The Gothically gorgeous Corpse Bride picks up--thematically anyway--right where The Nightmare Before Christmas left off. In a grim, colorless 19th-century European village, we are introduced to our hero, Victor (Johnny Depp), a shy, gangly, would-be pianist who is in the process of being married off by his nouveau riche parents, the Von Dorts. Victor is expected to marry the daughter of the Everglot family, a snooty bunch of landed but impoverished upper-crusts desperate to enrich their pocketbooks and unburden themselves of their daughter Victoria (Emily Watson, Gosford Park).
Never having met his intended bride, Victor is more than a little nervous. When he finally does cross her path, however, he recognizes a kindred spirit--a shy but passionate music lover stuck under the thumb of some overbearing parents. Suddenly marriage doesn't seem like such a bad idea.
Still, Victor is having trouble reciting his complicated wedding vows. While taking a head-clearing turn through the nearby forest, he is finally able to get through them all in one go. Unfortunately, in a grim misunderstanding, Victor recites the vows over the grave of a restless dead gal who was murdered on her wedding night. The Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter, a Burton regular since appearing in 2001's Planet of the Apes and giving birth to 2003's Billy Ray Burton) rises from the Earth and drags her new groom into the underworld for a little honeymoon.
Inhabited by assorted singing skeletons and dancing ghouls, this afterlife seems like an entertaining enough place. Plus, our blue-skinned bride is rather fetching for a dead puppet. Nonetheless, Victor longs for his original intended and hatches a plan to return to the land of the living.
Stop-motion puppetry, much like the type used in The Nightmare Before Christmas, brings the film's assorted characters to life (or death, as the case may be). A talented Brit-based voice cast, including Tracey Ullman, Christopher Lee, Richard E. Grant, Albert Finney and Joanna Lumley helps as well. Carter is the standout castmember, though, giving her not-so-bad girl a goofy sense of humor, a winning charm and just the right touch of melancholy. You can actually see why our hero might by torn between his two brides.
Composer Danny Elfman pops up, of course--in a role longtime fans will be amused to note all but mirrors his first film appearance in 1980's Forbidden Zone. His songs--though considerably less muddy than the tunes in Willy Wonka--don't seem quite as memorable as the ones in Nightmare. Still, the opening number--sung by most of the cast--sets a fine mood, while Elfman's big scat-jazz production, “The Remains of the Day,” stacks up as the film's catchiest.
Bride's production design is expectedly wondrous and--despite all the grisly trappings--loaded with whimsy and light humor. For whatever reason, though, the film feels slightly more claustrophobic than Nightmare did. The puppets move a bit better (thanks to some new latex skins), but the sets just don't seem to have the same breadth and depth.
Neither, for that matter, does the script. What's there isn't bad by any means. The story captures the feel of an old-fashioned European fairy tale with humor and flair. But it's all very slight, fairly simple and ultimately quite predictable. At a mere 76 minutes, the film is over before it's barely started. I realize the painstaking work that goes into making a stop-motion animated film (where a few seconds of film can take a whole day to animate), but another year of work and another ten minutes of film might have made this a considerably richer experience.
As a visual treat for fans of all thing dark and delectable, Corpse Bride delivers the ghoulish goods. It's probably not the thing for tiny tykes, or those who prefer to dress as clowns and princesses on Halloween, but it's a sure bet for longtime Burton fans.