Reel To Reel:How It Rates: ***1/2
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride
Starring: Voices Of Johnny Depp, Emily Watson, Helena Bonham-Carter, Tracey Ullman
Red Flags: Some scary moments, but probably should be rated "G-7."
Preconceived Notions: Tim Burton unleashes another Nightmare Before Christmas
The Bottom Line: Witty and dark-humored family flick.
Corpse Bride is old-school: stop-motion puppets in the age of CGI, although everything is so smoothly rendered and minutely detailed I had to keep reminding myself most of this came from dozens of hands and not some rendering farm.
That being said, Corpse Bride is a TV Halloween special blown up into a feature film, one running long on imagination. Again, Tim Burton taps Johnny Depp as his principal player, casting his voice (and his puppet likeness) as Victor, a bumbling 19th century groom who's about to be married off to Victoria (Watson). The match is made more for money than for love, with Victoria's snooty parents sorely in need of cash and Victor's family having it as burgeoning fish merchants.
A disasterous rehearsal has Victor running off into the woods, trying to sort out his feelings. He unwittingly places his wedding ring on a what appears to be a tree stump. Only it's the hand of... da-da-DA!... the Corpse Bride (Bonham-Carter), a half-flesh, half-bone victim of a murderous suitor. Victor ends up in a mysterious land of the dead, obviously taking cues from Mexico's Day of the Dead, where singing and dancing skeletons show more life than the people in Victor's world. Now Victor's got a real problem: he's married to a dead woman and still engaged to a live one. But who's his one true love?
Corpse Bride's strength is its nuances. It's more love story than creepshow, underscored by one sequence featuring Victor and the Bride playing piano together where the music tells the story better than any dialogue could. Nuance is enough of a challenge in a live-action film.
Composer Danny Elfman (another Burton company player) offers a perfectly-matched score, but unlike this summer's Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, I think Corpse Bride could've worked better without musical numbers by the cast... save that Wagner piano piece that's the most memorable part of the film.