Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride

I know I'm very unhelpful reviewing all these movies that have been out for years, but hey, it's what I'm watching. Library movies are a heck of a lot cheaper than going to a theater. (and frankly, the only thing I'm remotely interested in is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button)
I'll be reviewing a slew of Pixar movies, but before I get to them, here's a Tim Burton stop-motion gem: Corpse Bride. Nominated for Best Animated Feature in 2004, it lost to Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. (I like to believe they gave them that award simply because it was 'owed' for all the outstanding shorts they've made, because I enjoyed BOTH other nominees much more)
The premise, while not entirely original, is certainly not the typical Hollywood based-on-something-with-an-established-fanbase format. The ideas of a corpse bride and the butterfly spoiler-y thing at the end of the movie are based on Russian and Jewish folktales. Victor, a young, nervous, yet very handsome (because he is voiced by Johnny Depp) fishmonger's son is set to be married to Victoria, a young woman (voiced by Emily Watson, not to be confused with Emma Watson, thoughyou certainly won't once you hear her voice) of a noble yet penniless family. The marriage is arranged, and neither have seen the other before the start of the movie. Johnny-- I mean, Victor is also a talented artist and pianist. Victoria is not, but he still manages to fall in love with her at first sight. At the rehearsal, however, Victor cannot managed to do a single thing correctly, and humorously sets Victoria's mother's dress on fire.
Victor retreats into the woods where he practices his vows. After many botched attempts, he finally gets them right, inspired by a flower given to him by Victoria. He places the ring on a branch which turns out to be the skeletal hand of Helena Bohnam Carter, whose character name is listed simply as "corpse bride" in the credits even though we know what her name is, and both Victor and Barkis even call her by name. (they couldn't even put it in parentheses? Really, Tim Burton. Not to mention your ego at insisting your name comes before the title. It's like Nightmare, where you created but didn't direct. You directed. You have your credit. AND it's based on folktales!)
Victor's unexpected marriage sends him to the world of the dead, where we are recounted with Emily's tale by Danny Elfman as Bonejangles, a gravely-voiced skeleton. Elfman's music is wonderful as always, but perhaps just a little too forgettable. You'll be humming "Halloween" more often than Victor's theme or "Remains of the Day". (It's seriously called "Remains of the Day"? But it's all about the corpse bride...?) But at least he helps bring back the movie-musical. Baz Luhrman deserves much, but not all of the credit. There's Disney and Burton, too, you know. (and I suppose Twentieth Century Fox, but who really remembers that Anastasia WASN'T Disney?)
A common misconception is that both Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride are claymation. They are, in fact, filmed using models, the latter with very advanced mechanical heads that change expression at the turn of a gear rather than the entire replacement of a head. There is a bit of CG mixed in, but it's been a few years since I've watched the special features and don't remember where and what.
Tim Burton certainly creates an original world with this movie, reminiscent of Nightmare, but completely different at the same time. His fascination with the dead is entertaining, so we'll overlook the borderline morbidity of it. It's a good film, with fun music and very unique visuals, but it's not quite at the level of Nightmare, though it's refreshing to have a much more active heroine. (two, if you count Victoria) Did I mention that I like strong female characters? I recommend it, but not over Nightmare.

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