‘Corpse Bride’ blends digital and classic animation
September 21, 2005
“Corpse Bride,” 4.5 out of 5 bagels
If the Academy Awards show were held today, the Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film would go to “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride.” There is no equal. Visually the movie is absolutely stunning. Many of the characters are puppet creations, sometimes using fourteen different styles for one character. The facial effects alone are fascinating, and the expressions are almost human.
Blending CGI effects with classic, stop-motion photography, “Corpse Bride,” Tim Burton’s latest, almost defies that which is defined as animation. He roughed out a few sketches and then gave them to character designer Carlos Grangel and his staff, which took it from there to give Burton’s scribblings a life. One thing’s for sure when viewing a Tim Burton movie: He definitely pushes the creative envelope in addition to bucking the ordinary trends of filmmaking.
Burton and co-director Mike Johnson have pieced together a beautiful film that looks like no other. At first glance, there are some similarities to Burton’s 1993 film “The Nightmare Before Christmas” in an aesthetic way. This time out, though, Burton has shot everything on a digital format, thereby giving him an artistic freedom he didn’t have in the last century. The colors are amazing, changing from black-and-white to a washed color at times throughout. Couple this with a one-of-a kind plot line, and it becomes obvious that Burton’s fingerprints are all over this production.
And what a look this movie has, too. Burton tends to go for that Gothic look, as if we were taking a tour of Dracula’s digs and then Edgar Allan Poe’s place, mixing a bit of the ghoulish with comedy – lots of comedy with a macabre twist. Tim Burton’s world may be dark, but actors tend to line up to populate his civilization.
“Corpse Bride” is full of Burton regulars, starting with Johnny Depp, who voices the animated character of Victor Van Dort, a sullen and somewhat confused groom about to marry his Victoria Everglot (voiced by Emily Watson). She comes from aristocratic blood, but what’s this? No money? Her parents are snooty, to say the least, with the always-reliable Albert Finney and Joanna Lumley providing the voices.
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Victor’s parents are voiced by Tracey Ullman and Paul Whitehouse, who arrange to marry him off before he becomes the next 40-Year-Old Virgin. Victor doesn’t do rehearsal dinners very well, and botches his own wedding rehearsal. He needs to regroup, so he wanders off into a nearby forest reciting his vows.
All hell breaks loose (literally) when he places the wedding ring on a twig on the ground going through the motions of the “for better or for worse” part. As fate would have it, the twig grabs Victor’s hand and we are soon treated to the “Corpse Bride” (Helena Bonham Carter) who was tragically murdered on her wedding night. Sometimes a twig can be confused for one’s finger. Not exactly Snow White here. Suffice to say she really wants to be married again. Talk about your underground picture, eh?
The world of the dead is by no means boring or apathetic. In fact, there seems to be more living going on underground than above ground with the breathing.
Adding to the kinetic rhythm is Burton regular Danny Elfman, who does an excellent job scoring the music. Elfman also gets to sing the character role of Bonejangles, the frontman for a skeleton jazz band at a swinging underworld club. Things are hopping down under.
Elfman scored this movie as a regular movie and not just an animated one. The musical numbers are great and well choreographed, which must have taken days to shoot for some of these scenes. So what if the characters on the screen are not real ones? They still have very definitive facial expressions that are only enhanced by the music.
And even though many of the dead lack the facial tissue to show us their expressions, the corpse bride was more fortunate. She even has an innocence about her that is rather endearing. Meanwhile, in the land of the living, Victoria is wondering what has become of her Victor. In essence, what we have here is a love triangle of the oddest kind. All parties are in love – even the living.
I like Tim Burton’s world. It’s a nice place to escape for a little while and let your own mind drift off into a world of the subconscious.
– Howie Nave is host/manager of The Improv Comedy Club inside Harveys and reviews films for seven radio stations throughout northern California and Nevada. He co-hosts the morning show on Tahoe’s KRLT radio and you can see his film reviews every Friday morning on KOLO ABC TV Channel 8 and weekends on KMTN television here in South Lake Tahoe.