To be perfectly honest there are few sights more heart-wrenching than that of a twenty-something wearing a Jack Skellington beanie, looking more forlorn than usual after a midnight screening of a new Tim Burton film. However, twas last night that I saw such a sight and also found myself feeling somewhat similar - a tad cheerless -but thankfully without that itchy feeling for which beanies are a notorious culprit. Some people say you either love Tim Burton (referring to his films, I imagine) or you hate him. Yet, being someone prone to falling in the middle, and believing people who dichotomize such things should be slapped mercilessly with a pair of dirty, gray tube-socks, I neither love nor hate Tim Burton (referring to his films, of course!) and therefore fall into the "like" category. One of his films that I like quite a lot is The Nightmare Before Christmas. Yes, he did not direct that film, but certainly a fingerprint analysis would not be required to determine that "Nightmare" is very much a Tim Burton film. I am also very fond of stop-motion animation, and so, it would be true to say my anticipation of Corpse Bride was indeed two-fold.
The film begins with the nebbish Victor Van Dort (voiced by Johnny Depp) being ushered along by his fishmongering parents to meet the fetching lass, Victoria Everglot (Victor/Victoria) he is soon to marry. It is an arranged marriage, and as such, it is a union made to benefit the parents of both bride and groom. However, all is not as it seems, and perhaps if it were not for their trade, the parents Van Dort would notice that something smells a little fishy.
After Victor and Victoria meet, things quickly go from clumsy to cozy, and fate being the fickle bitch that she is, it appears the two are ready to spend the rest of their lives with one another after only a few minutes. However, shortly thereafter, when Victor continually flubs his vows during the wedding rehearsal, the cantankerous Pastor Gallswells (voiced by a wonderfully thunderous Christopher Lee) boots Victor out of the church and tells him not to return until he gets his act straight. Victor then wanders out into the nearby woods and begins practicing his wedding vows, culminating in his placing a wedding ring on a gnarly branch that actually turns out to be the hand of the titular Corpse Bride. In a jarring turn of events, Victor now finds himself betrothed to a dead woman and thrust from the gloomy land of the living and into the colorful underworld of the dead, where he must ultimately determine which bride he wants to spend the rest of his life, or death, with.
To be sure, Corpse Bride is not without its charms. I am sure it comes as no great surprise that the film looks nice - kind of like a collaboration between the Quay Brothers and Walt Disney. The gothic touches for which Burton is so fond (as am I) are on display in the dour and moody world of the living - which also serve as an effective contrast to the color saturated underworld of the dead. However, that being said, the visual scope is not as grand as it was in The Nightmare Before Christmas, and in comparison feels rather limited. On the plus side, the film also certainly boasts a very nice vocal cast! In addition to those already mentioned are, Emily Watson, Helena Bonham Carter, Albert Finney, Richard E. Grant, Tracy Ullman and Michael Gough (Hammer represent!) just to name a few.
The majority of the problems I had with the film are in the writing. Victor, the protagonist, is a very flimsy character. His basic wants and desires are ambiguous at best and he could simply be described as a pinball, bouncing from one character and scenario to the next. There is really no motivation or arc to Victor, apart from the fact that he bumbles a bit less by film's end. As for the Corpse Bride, she wants Victor to love her, well, because they're married I guess - even if it was an accident. She has a back story that sheds some light on things, but for the most part her character is not very interesting. Probably the most memorable thing about the Corpse Bride character was her sidekick, a maggot that looks and sounds like Peter Lorre and pops in and out of her head.
In addition to thin characters, the story is pretty scant as well. While there is conflict in the film's premise, often times as other conflicts arise they are set up only to be resolved in a quick and uninspired manner, and any drama quickly fizzles out. The film also hints at several interesting ideas, but fails to ever really do anything with them - almost as if someone forgot they were ever there. To make matters worse, the story then quickly deteriorates into predictability, and from about midway the film's ending is clearly in sight and its only a matter of the minor details being revealed. Sadly, even the songs by Danny Elfman are largely forgettable (and at times the lyrics are indiscernible) and pale in comparison to his other collaborations with Tim Burton.
The film clocks in at a mere 78 minutes and I think that with another fifteen minutes some of these problems could have been fixed, and the story and characters could definitely have used more time for some much needed fleshing out. It's common knowledge that animation is a painstaking, time-consuming process, and I can only imagine that if as much work had been put into the writing of the film, as went into animating it, Corpse Bride would have been much, much better. While not a disaster, the film just did not live up to my expectations, and if your expectations for this film are high then you might very well be disappointed. So, while I can't recommend the film I can offer one piece of advice however - if you own a Jack Skellington beanie, just leave it at home.
Originally published at Horrorview.com