[Screen It]

(2005) (voices of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter) (PG)

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Animated Comedy: After unintentionally placing his bride's wedding ring on a corpse's hand, a young man is whisked to the underworld where everyone is very much "alive" despite being dead, including his new corpse bride.
It's the 19th century and Victor (voice of JOHNNY DEPP) is a young and shy man whose working class parents -- Nell (voice of TRACEY ULLMAN) and William Van Dort (voice of PAUL WHITEHOUSE) -- have arranged his marriage to Victoria (voice of EMILY WATSON) -- the lovely daughter of Maudeline (voice of JOANNA LUMLEY) and Finis Everglot (voice of ALBERT FINNEY). Despite now being broke, the Everglots still maintain their snooty, upper crust ostentation and look down on Victor, as does their clergyman, Pastor Galswells (voice of CHRISTOPHER LEE), when Victor can't remember his vows during the wedding rehearsal.

Headed off to practice them, Victor unknowingly wanders into a long forgotten cemetery where his vows arouse the Corpse Bride (voice of HELENA BONHAM CARTER) whose thrust-up, skeletal hand comes into contact with Victoria's wedding band, thus meaning they're now married, at least in her mind. After accidentally knocking himself out, Victor awakens in the underworld where his new bride, Emily, and the rest of the dead live and celebrate the arrival of the newly dead.

Victor is taken aback by what he sees and tries to tell Emily that he's already spoken for, but he's soon drawn in by her story of having died on her wedding day and thence forever waiting for a groom. With the help of Elder Gutknecht (voice of MICHAEL GOUGH), they return to the world of the living, but when Emily sees Victoria, she whisks Victor back to the underworld.

As Victoria then sets out to help rescue Victor while being unaware that family friend Barkis Bittern (voice of RICHARD E. GRANT) has set his sights on her, her dowry and the family fortune that he's unaware no longer exists, Victor must choose between the two women, both of whom he's only just met.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
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 murdering the competition at the box office and later 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 with this "Corpse Bride." The film rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed September 15, 2005 / Posted September 23, 2005

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