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12 reviews, 52 user ratings

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Corpse Bride
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by David Cornelius

"Ironically lifeless."
2 stars

There’s something missing in “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride.” The filmmaker’s long-awaited return to the stop-motion animation format used previously in his minor masterpiece “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is unexpectedly flat, as if everything negative that’s ever been said about his style - too reliant on visuals, too empty elsewhere - has exploded onto the screen. The film is a dandy for the eyes, but, sadly, that’s all there is. The rest is a rather unimpressive, unexpectedly forgettable work.

The film plays like a child’s fairy tale storybook come to life; the problem here is that the screenwriters (Pamela Pettler, Caroline Thompson, and John August) take this too literally, leaving the story as undercooked as a twenty-page rhymer. The feel of a kid’s book is there in spades, but there’s nothing else, nothing drawing us into this strange new world. There should be magic pouring out of every scene. Instead, there is only the loose framework of a story hoping to get by on thin ideas and rough sketches.

Indeed, “Corpse Bride” would work wonderfully as a sketchbook. In that format, we could get all the exciting, inventive character designs and intricate set decorations without having to deal with any of that pesky story stuff. Alas, a story is what we get here - the general outline of one, anyway. It’s enough to make the movie feel like it’s telling us something, but not enough to actually follow through on that feeling.

Skinny, pale Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp) is set to be married to skinny, pale Victoria (Emily Watson), an arrangement made by their parents. Victor gets cold feet, and while practicing his vows in the deep, dark woods, he inadvertently slips the wedding ring onto the decaying hand of Emily (Helena Bonham Carter), our titular Corpse Bride. Sucked into the land of the dead (and into a marriage he did not expect), Victor plans to return to the land of the living.

That’s about it, really. The script never pushes the tale beyond this premise; once the set-up is set up, the movie has nowhere to go. Will Victor learn to love the sweet Emily? Or will he return to marry Victoria, with whom he was beginning to fall in love before being so rudely interrupted? The filmmakers struggle to figure out how to work this love triangle without resorting to cliché; it’s nice that neither woman was made into an obvious “bad” character, but in making us root for both, the finale refuses to satisfy. More than that, in fact: it refuses to make much sense. The characters are too busy stumbling through their motions without providing any actual explanation for their behavior. This prevents the story from being the gothic romance Burton wants. The character interaction is one big yawn, so who cares how it all turns out?

Burton’s new world lacks the depth (and magic) of his “Nightmare.” That film gave us an elaborately involving setting, and it was easy to lose yourself in the characters’ worlds. With “Corpse Bride,” however, the land of the dead is too flimsily explored - we get a pub of some kind, and a few dark streets, some kind of mystical elder, not much else. And even those places and characters aren’t as detailed, as inviting, as fascinating as they should be. This is supposed to be a whole new world of imagination. Why doesn’t it grab the viewer? Where’s the vast sense of wonder?

Perhaps Burton spent all that vast sense of wonder on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Like “Corpse Bride,” that film placed far too much emphasis on visual gimmickry and not enough of character or story. But at least that film contained the random bit of storytelling magic (thanks to Roald Dahl’s source material, natch) that kept us engrossed. Here, there’s simply nothing to hook the viewer.

Another comparison to “Charlie:” Danny Elfman’s music. As in that film, the songs of “Corpse Bride” feel tossed off and half baked. And as in that film, one of the key songs goes by with too many unintelligible lyrics. “Corpse Bride” is presented as a musical, yet there is not one piece of music that sticks out, even five minutes after the song has been performed. Elfman’s contributions to “Nightmare” left us humming. His contributions to “Corpse Bride” leave us checking our watches.

In fact, the only time we’re not checking our watches is when we’re given something new at which to look. A skeleton dance sequence is fascinating stuff, at first. The pseudo-Victorian setting of Victor’s world is intriguing, at first. The pseudo-impressionistic underworld is gorgeous, at first. There’s nothing here to keep us wanting more. It’s all a series of set pieces designed to thrill on first impact, with nothing in the story or characters to keep us interested. Even the dips into morbid humor fall flat far too often, with jokes and scenes lifted from Burton’s earlier fare (one moment recalls “Beetlejuice” so well that I began wishing I was watching that gem instead), others too dependent on weak, uninspired wordplay and (kid-friendly) gross-out nonsense. And while I’m all for the wordplay and gross-out nonsense, I’m only all for it when it’s fun. Here, it’s too dull, too flat.

Burton is obviously playing for his usual Gloomy Gus audience by relying on his old tricks - the loner hero, the goth imagery, the fairy tale atmosphere, the preference of weird over normal. But with “Corpse Bride,” he forgets to add the one thing that made his previous works successful: character. “Edward Scissorhands” is a lovely gothic legend, but its center is in Edward himself, not in the visuals. “Big Fish” worked overtime to create the proper fairy tale tone, yet it ultimately worked thanks to a strong central character, not the set design. And although “Nightmare” fills every inch of the frame with exciting visions, we’re ultimately drawn into the film by the cast and the story.

“Corpse Bride” unfortunately forgets all of this. It’s Burton by rote, a by-the-numbers idea of what a Tim Burton fairy tale should be. All of Burton’s visual trademarks are here, but his character trademarks are curiously weak. This is a yarn that’s been spun with too little care. With no depth to the material, the loveliness of the exterior crumbles all too quickly.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12831&reviewer=392
originally posted: 09/27/05 15:15:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

11/06/12 Mayfield Love this movie. Great for adults and children. 5 stars
5/06/11 brian Burton/Depp/Elfman triumph again! 5 stars
4/28/09 Stephen Fantastic movie, verry macarbe for a young odiance, but can be enjoyed by all 5 stars
2/13/09 lola after this movie i am in love with emily. 5 stars
1/11/09 Anonymous. such a sweet story :] 4 stars
8/27/08 Shaun Wallner Well Made! 5 stars
1/04/08 Pamela White very cute in a dark way 4 stars
6/12/07 Dark Enchantress i loved it! 5 stars
5/12/07 ala burgeia i love it 5 stars
5/02/07 alkdjfh totally wicked awesome 5 stars
2/23/07 Clayton Excellent character development, emotional implications, accentuate soundtrack adds to mood 5 stars
2/03/07 Vip Ebriega Small fry will enjoy it better than adults. 3 stars
1/27/07 mets1986 Just as good as Nightmare.... 5 stars
1/03/07 Alex Thorne didnt like NBC, and found this quite dull. doesnt live up to the hype 2 stars
11/17/06 BoyInTheDesignerBubble Brilliant movie, but boring soundtrack. Elfman needs to write stronger songs. 5 stars
10/08/06 isis coooooooooool!!!!!! 5 stars
8/16/06 Gemma Northcott I really like this film and i would watch it over and over. 5 stars
8/01/06 C. Davis Good, but I need another watch to catch what is so special 4 stars
7/17/06 David Cohen See Burton, you can still make a good movie if you try 5 stars
6/29/06 MP Bartley Grisly, spooky fun with with and heart. 4 stars
6/21/06 Joanie how scary 1 stars
5/27/06 AD I love this movie! Great job Tim Burton! 5 stars
3/27/06 Brian Meyer Don't compare to "nightmare" This movie stands firmly alone. Music wasn't great. 4 stars
3/11/06 C Vega good fairy tale movie but no way near as good as "nightmare" 4 stars
3/03/06 lilian best ever 5 stars
3/02/06 Doremimi Nice visually, but I was bored to DEATH! 3 stars
2/20/06 Annie G If you want to "Nightmare.." again, I'd recommend rewatching it instead. 3 stars
2/20/06 Jim Not sure what all the fuss was about 3 stars
2/04/06 HL Why even reference it to TNBC..This is incredible regardless of comparison! 5 stars
1/09/06 Jack Farnsworth Haven't seen it 5 stars
1/08/06 Quigley this movie was a work of directoral and visual genius. way to go, tim burton! oscars? 5 stars
12/23/05 Michele strange but cute 3 stars
12/22/05 Brian Johnson 2nd place to Nightmare, but still fun 4 stars
12/10/05 chris wonderful 5 stars
12/04/05 Hernan loved the music and character design 4 stars
11/07/05 malcolm drab colors were kinda boring. we've seen this style before. just a longcartoon. 3 stars
11/01/05 Jacqueline Ward-Isaac Brilliant film! Tim Burton lives up to The Nightmare Before Christmas! It was very amusing! 5 stars
10/26/05 Deadwiz Not as good as TNBC, but it will do... 4 stars
10/24/05 Adam The visuals are great, but the plot is predictable; the ending was lacking..felt unfinished 3 stars
10/21/05 Tina Totally enjoyed it - beautiful to watch and fun. 5 stars
10/15/05 Quigley why isn't anyone stating the obvious? this film is a visual, geniusly done masterpiece 5 stars
10/09/05 LOLO Outstanding and truly lovely film. Maybe not as good as NBC but has its own charm! 5 stars
10/04/05 Sam Really great, probably one to see again and again. But never as good as NmBC! 5 stars
10/04/05 drfardook Visually... its very good. Plot is ok, but the characters motivations fall flat. 3 stars
10/03/05 Meryl Stupid, half-finished, musically deficient dreck. What happened, Tim? What happened? 2 stars
10/02/05 Bee We've wanted to see this film since the previews came out, months ago. Today, on a 'dark a 5 stars
10/02/05 watson387 Excellent! 5 stars
9/29/05 E. Northam Burton charmingly revisits eerie themes, bizarre vistas & transgressive characters. 3 stars
9/26/05 KingNeutron Nicely animated, but the 2 major plot decisions don't make sense. 3 stars
9/23/05 Titus Glad I saw it, but once was plenty. Kinda forced and dry. Not Burton's best. 3 stars
9/15/05 mike b just saw a screening; not as much music as the nightmare before xmas flick, but very good! 4 stars
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  16-Sep-2005 (PG)
  DVD: 31-Jan-2006



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