It’s always a tricky proposition for a filmmaker to release two films within the same calendar year. Spielberg has done it numerous times (“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” and “Always” in 1989, “Jurassic Park” and “Schindler’s List” in 1993, “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” and “Amistad” in 1997, “Minority Report” and “Catch Me If You Can” in 2003, and “War of the Worlds” and “Munich” later this year), and as anyone can see from that list he has a spotty track record with trying to pull off the double-header.
So if the modern master can rarely pull it off what chances are there for success for someone like Tim Burton?
Earlier his year, Burton put his reimagining of the Roald Dahl classic “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” up for consumption, and now he Burton returns, mere months later, with his second collaboration with Johnny Depp in as many films, “Corpse Bride.”
This is new territory forBurton, a director so tuned into the visual and eccentric side of cinema that he often takes numerous years after completing one film to embark on another. But if the majestic “Corpse Bride” is any indication,Burtonshould keep on doing these return engagements.
An animated film in the vein of “Nightmare Before Christmas,” though different enough in style to keep from being stale, “Corpse Bride” is a creepy, side-splitting, wound-irritating ghost story.
Young Victor Van Dort (voiced by Depp), is to be married to Victoria (Emily Watson), a fine young Victorian lady that Victor meets only a day before their wedding. While attempting to escape the clutches of his parents (Tracey Ullman and Paul Whitestone, respectively), Victoria’s folks (Joanna Lumley and Albert Finney), and a creepy minister (Christopher Lee) — ghouls of the dark Victorian Age all — after a disastrous wedding rehearsal, Victor wanders into the woods to clear his head and nail down his wedding vows. Problem is, when he says his vows and places the ring on what he thinks is a twig, he actually marries Emily (Helena Bonham Carter), the beautiful, blue-skinned Corpse Bride. And she’s not about to let a little difference like him being alive and she dead get in the way of her happiness.
The scant yet fulfilling 80-minute runtime is split between the coal black and chalky white of the Victorian world of the living and the bright, vivacious Underworld. Both realms are populate by its fair share of stand-out characters — Victoria’s frog-like father, Finnis Everglot, and the smarmy Lord Barkis (Richard E. Grant) “up top” and General Bonesapart (Deep Roy, the Oopma Loompas from Burton’s “Charlie”), the beboppin’ Bonejangles (Danny Elfman), and the Peter Lorre-esque Maggot (Enn Reitel) below. What ties the two worlds together is a genuine creative spirit driving its aesthetic and story. Watching “Corpse Bride,” you’re reminded of “Nightmare” and “Beetle Juice,’ but also “Mad Monster Party” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” But you’ll be hard-pressed to claim you’ve seen anything in “Corpse Bride” before.
What Burton and co-director Mike Johnson do is take familiarities and turn them on their head. We’ve seen the stuffy Victorian world in Burton’s work before in “Sleepy Hollow,” yet the Victorian Age depicted here is wholly different. It’s as if it was run through a German Expressionist blender and molded into what is on screen. Similarly, the Underworld is reminiscent of the land of the dead in “Beetle Juice.” Here, though, the characters aren’t as concerned with the world of the living and how to prevent those who are alive from peering into their world as they are with one another and taking advantage of the freedoms death has afforded them.
The result is a fantastic wonder for the eye, as well as for the ear. Elfman once again delivers a brilliant score by using his previous work as a launching pad to blast off into previously unheard realms. Like with his Oompa Loompa songs on the “Charlie” factory, the numbers here, especially the ones delivered by Bonejangles, sound like Oingo Boingo b-sides yet, somehow, totally distinct. Similarly, the other numbers sound like cuts from his “Nightmare” score, yet, again, retain an individuality that makes them of this film and no other.
Of course, the voice work in “Corpse Bride” cannot be forgotten. The work by Depp, Carter, and Finney, Ullman, Reitel, and Lee especially is some of the best heard in recent memory. They carry the weight of their pedigrees in every syllable while totally letting go of any inhibition by delivering lines with a gusto you just can’t get away with in a live-action film.Burtonhas gathered a fine group of actors here, many of which are already a part of his regular stable of players, and they only accentuate the accomplishments of his wild visuals and crafty storytelling.
Burtonand Johnson have constructed a film in “Corpse Bride” that is destined to be a Halloween favorite for years to come. It might be trite to say in the current atmosphere of punchy, absolute one-liners, but this film is also destined to be a classic. It’s a marvel of animation, a wonder of storytelling, and a mark of genius inBurton’s already brilliant oeuvre.