The wildly creative and stunningly visual Corpse Bride once again highlights director Tim Burton's very macabre imagination. Still, does the guy ever have a happy, shiny thought?
Inspired by a Russian folktale, Corpse Bride begins with the promise of a wedding. The snobby Everglots (voiced by Joanna Lumley and Albert Finney) are pushing their daughter Victoria (voiced by Emily Watson) into marrying Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp), the bachelor son of the social-climbing Van Dorts (voiced by Tracey Ullman and Paul Whitehouse). Neither Victor nor Victoria wants this arrangement--that is, until they meet each other on the eve of their wedding and sparks fly. But when Victor screws up his vows during the rehearsal, he is humiliated and rushes off. Once in the fresh, cool air, he is suddenly able to recite his vows perfectly, down to even putting the ring on what looks like a gnarled tree root. Ah, but that's not what it is at all. It's the very dead hand of the Corpse Bride (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter), a lovely but rotting young lady who rises out of the ground to claim her groom and drag him down into the Land of the Dead, which is actually a pretty festive place. Even though Victor doesn't want to break the heart of the Corpse Bride, who has her own sad tale to tell, he just can't see how the marriage is going to work--being that's he's alive and in love with someone else. What's a decaying bride looking for her lost love to do?
Corpse Bride has amassed a nice eclectic group of British voices, except for Depp, of course (although at this point, he should be considered an honorary Brit since he's played so many). It's easy to see Depp as Victor--gangly, floppy hair, sunken cheeks. And Watson as Victoria--big eyes, round face, petite femininity. But that's because they are the most normal of the Bride's bunch. The rest of cast don't look anything like their vocal counterparts, either as highly exaggerated human caricatures (check out Lady Everglot's hair) or as one of the dearly departed. Bonham Carter probably has the most fun as the moldering newlywed who is just in the wrong place and the wrong time. Same goes for her friend Maggot, voiced by Enn Reitel and sounding very much like Peter Lorre, who has one of the better lines when he tells the Bride, ''I'm sure if I weren't just sitting in it, I'd think you'd lost your mind.''
All I can say is Tim Burton must have been a very different child, who nonetheless watched a lot of the Rankin/Bass Christmas specials. But then again, Burton's version of stop motion animation is a far cry from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. After producing The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach, he has finally taken the reins and perfected what looks like a very cumbersome but amazing way of doing animation. ''What I love about stop motion animation is that it's so tactile,'' Burton explains. ''There's something wonderful about being able to physically touch and move the characters, and to see their world actually exist.'' He isn't kidding. Corpse Bride is real eye candy from start to finish, with an interesting twist on themes: the living world is washed out, dull, with little color--and little life, actually--while the Land of the Dead is effervescent and jazzy, where the denizens drink and party all night. I'm sure Burton truly believes this is what the hereafter is really like. So must Burton's longtime composer Danny Elfman, the former lead singer of the '80s band Oingo Bongo, whose hit ''Dead Man's Party'' aptly validates this feeling. However, Elfman's songs in Corpse Bride--yes, it's a musical, too--are pretty tame and, frankly, pointless. If the film could have shaved off the musical numbers, it would have zinged.
Splashy and unnecessary musical numbers notwithstanding, Corpse Bride is a wild, vibrant and somewhat romantically morbid trip through the afterlife.