Knowledge of mortality is one of the big things that distinguishes humans from other life forms and drives us -- in one way or another -- through life and eventually toward death. Some won't accept it will happen to them, and others fear every aspect of it. Then there are those who seem to have adopted the "if you can't beat it, revel in it" philosophy.
I'm not saying that the likes of director Tim Burton enthusiastically await the big day, but there's no denying the filmmaker certainly has an interesting fascination with and viewpoint of the subject matter. And that's definitely on display -- and should surprise few based on the title -- in his latest effort, "Tim Burton's Corpse Bride."
An imaginative, highly detailed and fairly entertaining film, it will likely remind viewers of previous Burton helmed or inspired films such as "Beetle Juice" and especially "The Nightmare Before Christmas." Like the latter, it's a product of stop-motion animation where miniature models in equally miniature background sets are painstakingly moved fractions of an inch at a time and photographed at each change. When those stills are then strung together and played at standard movie speed, they create the illusion of movement, much like an old-fashioned, hand-drawn animated film.
It's also a musical like its predecessor with characters stopping several times to break into song (and some dance) designed for entertainment and further exposition (just like any live-action musical). As was the case with both of those films and others in the filmmaker's career, it's a comically macabre tale filled with characters, developments and themes that might seem horrific in a live-action film (okay, I'm funny that way about "living" characters who are completely split in half from head to toe) but come off as amusing if dark in a film like this.
Finally, it's once again the tale of an outsider finding himself in an unusual situation that only adds to the thought that such characters symbolize the filmmaker and how he views himself (and apparently his dogs) in the real as well as movie-making world. With all of that familiarity and some might argue repetitiveness, you may wonder why the praise is being heaped on this effort.
Well, it's in the details, my dear -- of which there are a plethora here -- as well as the devil may care, twisted dark humor that only Burton can deliver with such aplomb (although to be accurate, he's listed as a co-director with Mike Johnson who was an animator on "Nightmare" many moons ago).
And there's no denying the film's a visual treat. From the borrowed artistic styles of past masters to the charm that only stop-motion films can muster (both consciously and subconsciously), Burton again creates a rich and imaginatively drawn world that -- despite the bizarre and macabre subject matter -- is easy to visit for the film's scant 70-some minute runtime.
Vocal work is also top-notch and comes from the lips of long-time Burton collaborator Johnny Depp ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Finding Neverland") playing the lead character; Helena Bonham Carter ("Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," "Big Fish") as his unearthed and unexpected bride; Emily Watson ("Separate Lies," "Punch-Drunk Love") as his previous bride-to-be and the likes of Richard E. Grant ("Gosford Park," "The Little Vampire"), Albert Finney ("Big Fish," "Erin Brockovich") and Tracey Ullman ("Small Time Crooks," "Bullets Over Broadway") in supporting roles.
If there's one complaint, it's that the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. While that's often a good thing in concept, you can't help but wish that the film -- penned by John August ("Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," "Big Fish"), Caroline Thompson ("The Nightmare Before Christmas," "Edward Scissorhands") and Pamela Pettler (making her feature debut) -- was as good as its many fun, entertaining and even brilliant moments. The story, while serviceable in moving things forward, is nothing terribly clever or memorable once the premise is established.
And the various musical numbers -- while lively but appropriately macabre and darkly comedic from composer Danny Elfman -- are just as forgettable as the plot. They're certainly not as good or clever as those found in "Nightmare" (also done by Elfman), a film that also had a better and more imaginative plot, more engaging characters and a generally more infectious spirit.
Thus, it's hard to predict if people will be dying to see it, or if it will making a killing on home video. If you go in with low expectations for the story but carefully watch all of the glorious if whacky details, you may just find yourself engaged by this "Corpse Bride."