|Many viewers will have very specific expectations of Corpse Bride given the creepy aura that seems to surround most of his films. Even in his "lighter" feature films, like 2003's Big Fish, there is still a sense of unease that accompanies most of his characters. And such is the case in Corpse Bride, where Burton's oft-used Johnny Depp provides an enthusiastic voice the delicate character of "Victor Van Dort." And that idea of a delicate nature can probably be applied to most of the characters in the film though Depp provides one of the best performances.|
Depp often provides creative insights into the twisted sensibilities of his wacky characters though he's usually afforded the use of his physical self to provide a well-rounded and multi-dimensional character. Because this film is an animated feature, Depp has the more difficult task of conveying his character's angst through voice alone. But he is joined by a seemingly dedicated group of artists who bring Depp's character beautifully to life in animated form.
This film uses what's called "stop motion photography," where thousands of photographs are taken after subtle character movements and laced together to create the illusion of moving scenes. For an indication of just how time consuming this process is, it took twenty-eight separate shots just to make the Corpse Bride blink her eyes. But the grueling fifty-five week shooting schedule was well worth the effort because the film represents one of the most beautiful pieces of visual art to grace the screen this year.
But beyond the film's graceful appearance and impressive production values, viewers might be caught off guard by the uneven creativity present in the musical numbers. In an interesting marketing technique, the creators of the theatrical trailers and television spots for this film really don't focus on the fact that the film is many parts a musical. And the songs vary wildly in their emotional effectiveness and just how good they are. The first song is definitely the weakest of the film (it showcases the two sets of parents singing about their children's impending nuptials) and that creates an immediate stumbling block for anyone not already a fan of Tim Burton's vivid theatrics.
Viewers willing to bide their time through that first musical number are rewarded with increased creativity with each successive song. Composer Danny Elfman, a perpetual haunt in Tim Burton's world, has created a disparate soundtrack that includes several moments of musical wizardry but also a fair share of lackluster notes and cues. The most glaring difference is in just how good the recurring piano theme is against the stark, slightly ear-piercing yowl of the first musical number. How could one musical score encompass both cues that are musically sublime and ones that would be best listened to with earplugs?
If one were to base the success of this film on the merits of its visuals alone, even the most demanding of viewers would find it difficult to find any flaw or uninteresting character, decoration, or costume. The most impressive virtue of the film is without question the look of it, although sometimes the raucous environment of the dead's underworld is rather busy. Sometimes there are just too many things moving around on the screen and too many colors fighting for dominance if the frame.
The film's screenplay isn't something that would elicit wonder from viewers, though it's possible the dialogue was created as a secondary endeavor to the film's characters and visuals. The basic storyline, that of a man accidentally marrying a corpse on the eve of his wedding, is an intriguing idea and it's presented in a clean, unerring fashion so as to allow viewers to concentrate on what they're seeing on the film rather than on what the characters are saying.
Of course, when the characters are speaking, it's apparent that each of the roles was filled with the appropriate actor. Helena Bonham Carter is suitably expressive in her role as the Corpse Bride while Emily Watson's beautiful voice is displayed well in her role as Victoria Everglot, the live bride to whom Depp's character is originally intended. Christopher Lee's voice is a perfect fit for the role of the stern church pastor as is that of Richard Grant, who plays the dubious Lord Barkis.
Expressive voices and beautiful cinematic artistry yield a successful feature film for director Tim Burton (who shares directing credit with Mike Johnson) and if one is willing to look beyond the strange quirks of the musical numbers (it helps if one is aware that the film is a musical before the viewing starts), the movie is worth a trip to the theater.
Review by Kelsey Wyatt.