Karen Sees The Corpse Bride (and only cries a little)

by Karen Gsteiger

(mild to moderate spoilers, as usual)

I'm PMS-ing right now. It's the only thing that explains why I'm listening to the Carpenters while I write this review. I'm normally a hard rock kind of girl, but is there anything sadder than Karen Carpenter's voice when you know her tragic fate? Speaking of a pretty young woman with a tragic fate...

Last night Matt and I went to see Tim Burton's The Corpse Bride. As The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of our very favorite animated films, we were eagerly looking forward to this one. We had some irritating technical difficulties at the theater, including starting the film 20 minutes late and turning the lights back on at the beginning of the film, but it was smooth sailing about five to 10 minutes in.

Tim Burton has been so hit-or-miss in recent years, and it's refreshing to see him back in good Gorey-esque form. The stop-motion puppet animation is seamless, and the visual style is very similar to Nightmare Before Christmas. Skeletons and creepy crawlies galore, but there are a lot of witty touches--the maggot confidante of the Corpse Bride who lives in her eye socket, the kindly elder of the land of the dead who scratches his cracked skull when befuddled, the disembodied Head Waiter--all in all, the land of the dead looks a hell of a lot more interesting than the land of the living.

The Corpse Bride boasts good voice performances by Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, and I was thrilled to see Emily Watson playing the role of "Victoria." You just can't get enough of Emily Watson and her wonderful voice. Joanna Lumley, Tracey Ullman, Albert Finney, Christopher Lee, Jane Horrocks...basically this movie is bursting at the seams with voice talent.

Danny Elfman provides the usual catchy tunes, which were enjoyable, but a little musically busy because, as in the recent Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, it was occasionally difficult to make out the lyrics. Which is a shame, as they are usually quite clever. His songs are much more successful when they aren't accompanied by a full orchestra or jazz band. The Corpse Bride's plaintive "Tears to Shed" is, in my opinion, the most successful musical number.

In regards to things like characterization, the Corpse Bride is actually the most fully rounded and developed character; I think Burton would have done well to give Victor and Victoria a little more life. But even if you find yourself noting little flaws and making mental comparisons to The Nightmare Before Christmas, I suspect you will have forgiven Burton with that beautiful ending (plus a touching scene wherein we learn that it really wouldn't be that awful if the dead walked the earth).

The story starts off a bit slow, as Johnny Depp's Victor prepares for a marriage with Emily Watson's Victoria that has been arranged by their hideous parents, Victor being a member of the nouveau riche and Victoria being a member of the penniless blue bloods. Victor and Victoria like each other well enough (although they certainly don't have the romantic chemistry of, say, Jack Skellington and Sally, which is bit of a hindrance to the story). While practicing his vows, Victor accidentally marries the titualar Corpse Bride, who bears a disturbing resemblance to Angelina Jolie. The Corpse Bride wants to keep him for her own in the land of the dead; Victor would rather be married to Victoria; Victoria will go to heroic lengths to save Victor; Victoria's parents never liked Victor much anyway and now want to marry her off to a sinister nobleman. I'll let you see how it all shakes out in the end, and yes, the bittersweet ending made me tear up, but I am PMS-ing.

Oh, who am I kidding? Animated movies have a way of getting me *right here*. I can deal with many of life's tragedies and disappointments with a brave face, but oh God, that "goodbye" scene in Monsters, Inc. gets me every goddamn time. But anyway.

Overall, I would venture to say that The Corpse Bride isn't an instant classic like Nightmare Before Christmas, but I'm sure it will find a home in our DVD collection. Go see it by yourself or take a date. I think that kids who have a taste for the quirky would enjoy it, but younger children might not be amused by various aspects of the macabre. Some kids get themselves so worked up over little things like talking skeletons or bugs...

Oh, and in case you're wondering why my reviews are largely positive...it's not because I like absolutely everything. In fact, there's a vast number of things that I positively hate. But since I'm not a professional movie reviewer, I only see the movies I think that I would like, and for the most part, I do. Sometimes I'll pick a dud, but usually I research a movie enough to figure out whether or not it's worth spending $10 to see it on the big screen. Now, if any of you want to subsidize bad-movie watching, feel free to make a donation...just kidding! Just kidding!