Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Clunky Animation And Garbled Music Kill Corpse Bride

The Good: Moments of fun, Good casting
The Bad: Animation isn't the greatest, Not funny, Predictable plot, Music isn't clear
The Basics: When Victor Van Dort accidentally marries a corpse, the viewer is taken on a frantic visual trip to the world of the dead accompanied by mumbled music.

I suppose in the interest of full disclosure, I ought to open the review by saying (for those who have not read my review of it) that I was not a fan of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. It didn't grab me. Where I had hoped for dark, quirky and macabre, I just found disappointing and surprisingly childish. It was, therefore, with rather low expectations that I popped in Corpse Bride to evaluate. The short response is that the movie pretty much lived down to my lowered expectations.

When Victor Van Dort, son of new money fishmongers, is pledged to be married to Victoria Everglot, daughter of parents who are poor-as-dirt old money, he seems to have some problems with getting into the spirit of the marriage. While practicing his vows, he accidentally places the ring on the finger of a desiccated corpse who suddenly is reanimated by his commitment to her. She drags him off to the world of the dead and while Victoria is searching for him (and Victor searches for a way home) she is preyed upon by the golddigging Lord Barkis Bittern whose connection to the Corpse Bride is obvious.

Where have you gone, Tim Burton? I'm calling out for the Tim Burton whose genius with Danny Elfman created such dark, dreamy, funny and/or quirky visions as Beetlejuice, Batman, Batman Returns, and the unrelentingly depressing Edward Scissorhands (which still surprises me is not found in more DVD players at the sites of suicides). Burton used to have a writing style and visual sense that was imaginative and unique. He could create creepy, he made action-adventure movies that used dialogue and created character (Batman Returns kicks The Fantastic 4 any day of any week), and he made haunting works that remain with their viewers.

As they say at the climax of The Usual Suspects, "And then like that . . . he's gone!"

I cannot recall the last Tim Burton movie I truly enjoyed. Big Fish didn't live up to my expectations and Charlie And The Chocolate Factory was just disappointment in bright, lush colors. Corpse Bride joins that sad descent in Tim Burton's works and it has a significant number of problems that Charlie And The Chocolate Factory had.

First, what's right; the casting. Tim Burton seems to have found a posse of actors and actresses that he has become comfortable with repeatedly exploiting for his cinematic experiments. Michael Keaton is out of the club, but Johnny Depp remains firmly entrenched, now with Helena Bonham Carter, Christopher Lee, and Deep Roy at his side. Perhaps Corpse Bride was completed using their voice-over talents while on breaks from Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, but either way, Burton has assembled a quality collection of vocal talents. And they do their best with what they are given.

And there are a few moments that are quirky enough to make one smile, though almost exclusively relegated to the world of the dead. Burton, no doubt, is making a statement by keeping the world above in dark, moody grays while down below there are colors and a tremendous sense of movement.

Unfortunately, that ultimately works against the movie when the soundtrack is added. Danny Elfman has created one of his least memorable soundtracks for Corpse Bride, but during the frenetic moments in the world of the dead, the music only serves to jumble already confused, rapid-fire shots that are not effectively creating a world, but rather jerking the viewer through it. Much of the movie ends up feeling like a roller coaster. With some music.

With the animation style being what it is, and I understand it was a rather painstaking process, Corpse Bride ends up looking like a Puff's commercial on acid.

And for a musical, there are remarkably few songs in Corpse Bride. None of them are particularly memorable and, like several of the numbers in Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, many of them are jumbled, at least in part. The songs in the underworld all suffer at one point or another from moments where the lyrics are obscured by the music and I had to rewind just to catch lines. This is not an ideal way to make a movie.

But ultimately, the film fails because of the story. None of the characters are particularly interesting. The viewer ultimately does not care whether Victor ends up with Victoria or the Corpse Bride. Whatever sense of jeopardy from Bittern's presence is swallowed up in the absurdly obvious notion that the Everglots are virtually bankrupt.

All in all, this is a disappointment and while we applaud Tim Burton for stretching out in new directions, we wonder when his stretching will result in another work of enduring quality.

For other works by Tim Burton, please check out my reviews of:
Alice In Wonderland
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street
Charlie And The Chocolate Factory
Big Fish
The Nightmare Before Christmas
Batman Returns
Edward Scissorhands


For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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