Combustible Celluloid
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With: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Tracey Ullman, Paul Whitehouse, Joanna Lumley, Albert Finney, Richard E. Grant, Christopher Lee, Micahel Gough, Jane Horrocks, Enn Reitel, Deep Roy, Danny Elfman, Stephan Ballantyne (voices)
Written by: John August, Pamela Pettler, Caroline Thompson
Directed by: Tim Burton, Mike Johnson
MPAA Rating: PG for some scary images and action, and brief mild language
Running Time: 77
Date: 09/07/2005

Corpse Bride (2005)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

With This Ring I Thee Dead

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Once hailed as a "boy genius" with enough gumption to turn Batman into his own darkly personal vision, Tim Burton has lately seemed confused about how to further adapt his singular talent to mainstream entertainment. Sleepy Hollow, Big Fish and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were all good films, but they all felt just a bit restrained in comparison to the early works, as if they were unfinished, or still searching for something. (We won't even mention the horrible travesty of Planet of the Apes.)

The good news is that Corpse Bride is a return to Burton's spunky, unfettered ideals. Made possible by the ever-growing cult around the 1993 stop-motion animated The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride is similarly animated, though it looks so smooth that audiences may suspect CGI is involved. Like the earlier film, Corpse Bride has a delirious, gothic sensibility, as if Charles Addams and Edward Gorey had risen from the grave to contribute to its spirit.

Johnny Depp, working with Burton for the fifth time, lends his voice to Victor Van Dort, a skinny, meek lad who finds himself engaged to a girl he has never met, Victoria Everglot (voiced by Emily Watson). They meet for their wedding rehearsal, and the good news is that they're instantly attracted to one another, but the bad news is that Victor botches the entire thing, and retreats to the woods to practice his vows.

Once there, he unexpectedly finds his vows heard and accepted by the corpse bride of the title (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter). Drawn into the underworld, Victor must figure out a way to return to the land of the living before his fleshy betrothed marries an evil gold digging villain, Barkis Bittern (Richard E. Grant).

Based on an old Russian folk story, Corpse Bride is set in the 19th century but has nothing dreary or stodgy about it. Burton and his co-director Mike Johnson (an animator on The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach as well as a director on the short-lived Eddie Murphy TV show "The PJs") keep the film moving at a snappy pace. Likewise, the film contains a new set of Danny Elfman songs, but they're quick and snappy as well as few and far between.

The voice casting here is far more inspired than in The Nightmare Before Christmas, partially because Burton has by now built up a company of trusted actors. Albert Finney (Big Fish) and Christopher Lee (Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) lend their pipes to two of the most vivid characters, but an actor named Stephan Ballantyne stands out as well, delivering a dead-on Peter Lorre impersonation in Emil, a maggot living in our corpse bride's brain.

Burton and Johnson have cleverly balanced the film's darkness with PG-friendly escapism, so that the corpse bride's astonishing hourglass figure doesn't seem too much of a goth fetish; it should pass by young viewers without notice. Thankfully, Burton did not feel the need to talk down to kids, or clean up his act for them. Like Roald Dahl, whose Chocolate Factory Burton just returned from, this director understands that kids -- and audiences in general -- respond to honesty. Burton has plumbed his spidery soul for a glorious vision of undead vixens, walking through the night as if every day were Halloween.

Warner Home Video's DVD release doesn't particularly feature any extras worth writing home about: just a bunch of featurettes. There's a music-only audio track and a trailer. All told, however, this is still one of the only 2005 movies that I'd want to own and watch over and over again, so it doesn't really matter what the extras are.

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