Corpse Bride (2005)
Directed by Tim Burton & Mike Johnson

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* * * *

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Victor Van Dort, a shy, nervous young man, is engaged to be married to Victoria Everglot, the daughter of aristocratic though impoverished parents, but, when he is unable to remember his vows at their wedding rehearsal, Victor retires to a nearby forest to practice them. There, as he does so, he places his wedding ring on what he believes is a dry branch. It is, however, the skeletal hand of a dead woman, who immediately rises from her grave, claims that she is married to Victor, and whisks him away to the underworld.

Tim Burton and Mike Johnson's Corpse Bride, which is performed entirely by puppets moved by means of stop motion animation, is a visually enthralling, joyously fun film.

The movie's simple narrative is always engaging and allows the directors to insert into their work a variety of odd incidents and to reveal their various characters' virtues and vices. Burton and Johnson thus present the moviegoer with words of wisdom from an advice dispensing maggot, Victor's reunion with his deceased and now skeletal dog, and a bodiless head moving about with the assistance of an army of cockroaches. Elsewhere, they bring out both Victor and Victoria's decency, as well as their love for one another, the corpse bride's sadness, desperation, and innate goodness, Victoria's parents' prudishness and arrogance, and Victor's parents' crass desire to gain access to the aristocracy by marrying their son into a titled family.

Admittedly, many of the details of this story are either painfully obvious or treated in entirely too perfunctory a way. Who the corpse bride's killer is will be clear to even the slowest viewer, and her troubles are not so much resolved as merely forgotten. Even her relationship with Victor is empty and uninspired. Nonetheless, while these events are less than perfectly realized, the persons around whom they revolve are so intriguing that the viewer is almost certain to be caught up in the narrative, whatever its limitations.

Moreover, the appeal these individuals have is greatly increased by Corpse Bride's delightful visual qualities. The directors have created two distinct though equally imaginatively conceived worlds, that of the living and that of the dead. The former is a grey, almost colorless place filled with dark, ghostly woods, tall, moldering houses, and lifeless, cruel people. The latter, however, is a weird, vibrant realm of animated skeletons and happily rotting cadavers who spend their time drinking, singing, and playing various games.

As amusing as are these two worlds, the individuals inhabiting them are even more wonderful. The living are, except for Victor and Victoria, misshapen beings with long pointed noses, lantern jaws, outrageiously overdone hair, or some other caricatured feature or another. The dead are equally strangely delineated, but, instead of appearing cruel or menacing, their gruesome oddness is actually charming. A half rotted dwarf general, for example, wanders about pierced with a sword. A blue faced cook, who wears a ridiculously tall hat and is married to a similarly featured and attired wife, loses his eye in a mixing bowl. Dancing skeletons exchange skulls with one another, and the surprisingly attractive corpse bride moves with an ethereal grace that gives her a real delicacy, even though one of her arms and one of her legs are no more than bones and her head is inhabited by a maggot whose voice sounds like that of Peter Lorre.

Thanks to its numerous appealing elements, Corpse Bride is a consistently entertaining, often deliciously clever work. It is, in fact, the best Burton has made in some years.

Review by Keith Allen

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