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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Tim Burton's Corpse Bride
Tim Burton's Corpse Bride
Warner Bros. // PG // January 31, 2006
List Price: $28.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Holly E. Ordway | posted January 24, 2006 | E-mail the Author
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C O N T E N T
V I D E O
A U D I O
E X T R A S
R E P L A Y
A D V I C E
Highly Recommended
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The Movie

Tim Burton's work is always worth watching; whether he's directing or writing, he firmly stamps his own unique, distinctive style on every film, and he's not afraid to take chances on wildly imaginative material. His newest film doesn't really need to be called by its full title, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride, because from the very beginning it's clear that nobody other than Tim Burton could have made this delightful and weird (or is that delightfully weird?) little film.

It's hard to believe that it's been thirteen years since the release of Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. That film is one of my all-time favorites, and I've lost count of how many times I've re-watched it; each time, it feels just as fresh and wonderful as the time before. With so much creative energy and originality in that film, it seems only natural that eventually Burton would want to dip into the same well for a second film... and that's where we get Corpse Bride, which is in every way a successor to The Nightmare Before Christmas, and not just because both of them use stop-motion animation. Burton has resisted the temptation to make a direct sequel (wisely, I think, though one can't help but wonder what he'd make of Skellington visiting some of the other holiday towns), instead making Corpse Bride a film that follows in the stylistic footsteps of The Nightmare Before Christmas, with different characters and a fresh story.

Corpse Bride introduces us to a Gothic story with all the trimmings. Victor, the son of obnoxious nouveau riche, social-climbing parents, is engaged to be married to Victoria, the daughter of penniless but extremely haughty nobility, in an arranged union that will benefit both sides of the family... regardless of what either Victor or Victoria think about the whole thing. The wedding arrangements get off to a rocky start, and things only get worse when Victor stumbles into the bony arms of the eager Corpse Bride. Whisked down into a crazy and very lively underworld, Victor finds that his life has changed, perhaps forever.

Gothic gloom, dancing skeletons, singing maggots and spiders, talking severed heads... does this sound Tim Burton-esque yet? Corpse Bride certainly serves up a generous helping of all the creative excesses that make Burton's films so much fun. The two distinct worlds of the story give Burton a chance to use contrast, in both visual and narrative terms, to set the mood of Corpse Bride. In the topsy-turvy world of this film, it's the land of the living that's muted and dark, while the land of the dead is full of noise, revelry, and color.

Into this visually stylized (and stylish) world, Burton has drawn a considerable number of talented actors to supply the voices for his characters. Johnny Depp once again shows his talent for finding intriguing roles to showcase his considerable acting talent, here providing the voice for the character of Victor. Helena Bonham Carter is the other headline talent, voicing the title character, the Corpse Bride herself. Supporting these two actors are numerous other talents: Emily Watson, Albert Finney, Christopher Lee, Tracey Ullman, and many more.

There are a number of parallels between Corpse Bride and The Nightmare Before Christmas, both large and small. Burton has chosen some set-pieces here that strongly echo scenes in the earlier film, such as the protagonist's journey into the forest in a state of depression, or the Oogie-Boogie-like style of the skeleton song-and-dance routine. Numerous small references to Nightmare are woven into the whole of the film, sometimes in lines of dialogue and sometimes in the visuals; they're blended perfectly into the style of the film, so you won't notice them if you aren't familiar with Nightmare, but they're a nice little homage for viewers who are fans of the earlier film. All of this is certainly not to imply that Corpse Bride is a repeat of Nightmare, though: the similarities are strongest at the beginning of the film, and as Corpse Bride hits its stride, the film develops naturally in its own direction. I'd point out some of the lovely imaginative scenes that we get... except that those would be spoilers, and you wouldn't want those, would you?

Without revealing any spoilers, I can tell you that the story is a lot of fun. Burton has taken elements from folklore and Gothic fiction and woven them into a lively and charming story that keeps you wondering what's going to happen. The final resolution of the film - not to mention the unexpected way the story gets there - feels fresh and unexpected, yet completely natural, given the way the story has developed up to that point. An essential element in the success of the story is its short length: at only 77 minutes, Corpse Bride is a compact package of animated delights that crams more into a single frame than some animated films get into a full scene. With its brisk pacing, the film gets viewers hooked right from the beginning and never lets up until the credits roll. Could we have asked for more? Of course! But Burton evidently knows that it's best to leave the viewer a little hungry rather than overfed. That's one reason that Corpse Bride is going to be very rewatchable.

It's worth noting that the songs in Corpse Bride work very well. Most of the time, when I watch an animated film that includes musical numbers, the musical interludes feel like awkward pieces that have been shoehorned in because, well, don't all animated films have songs nowadays? But with Corpse Bride, the music is seamlessly woven into the story as a whole. Rather than having the story come to a screeching halt while a couple of the characters sing, the songs blend into and out of the spoken dialogue, and even more importantly, the songs always advance the story along. Danny Elfman's distinctive style is very much in evidence here; just as the overall feel of the film displays Burton's style, the musical score says "Danny Elfman" all over it. The songs here don't reach the brilliance of the score of The Nightmare Before Christmas, but even so, they're a long step ahead of just about every other animated musical.

It wouldn't be right to end this review without mentioning the amazing stop-motion animation of Corpse Bride. The nuances of expression that the puppets are capable of, in the hands of Burton's crew of filmmakers, are amazing. That's not even to mention the fact that the film is bursting with energy and motion, and filled with countless clever visual details. But even more than that, the choice of stop-motion animation gives the story-world a realistic depth and texture that CGI simply can't realize, while capturing a stylized look that would be impossible to capture with live action.

The DVD

Video

Corpse Bride is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1, and is anamorphically enhanced. The transfer is stunning, undoubtedly due in part to the cutting-edge use of digital cameras to capture each frame of the film. In the gloomy upper-world scenes, all the various shades of gray and brown are captured in their subtleties, while the bold colors of the land of the dead are vibrant and clean. The transfer as a whole is utterly clean and crisp, with every tiny detail of the image captured. I didn't see a single instance of edge enhancement or any kind of flaw whatsoever.

Audio

The Dolby 5.1 soundtrack does an outstanding job of immersing the viewer in the world of the film, from the echoing footsteps in the Everglot mansion to the bone-clicking rhythms of the skeleton dancers. The music is full and rich, the dialogue is clear and expressive, and the surround sound is used very effectively. The audio balance is handled extremely well, with the music and all the other aspects of the soundtrack nicely balanced.

Dubbed Spanish and French tracks are also provided, as is a music-only track.

Extras

A number of short featurettes are included on the disc. I'd have preferred a single more substantial documentary, but overall these short pieces provide some interesting behind-the-scenes information.

"Inside the Two Worlds" (4 minutes) provides a brief overview of the film, and has a slightly promotional feel. "Danny Elfman Interprets the Two Worlds" (5 minutes) shifts into more substantial content, discussing Elfman's work on the film's songs. "Tim Burton: Dark vs Light" (3 minutes) briefly discusses Burton as a director, while "Voices from the Underworld" (6 minutes) introduces us to the voice actors and their work. The voice actors are also highlighted in "The Voices Behind the Voice" (7 minutes), which provides a split-screen view of the voice actors delivering their lines and the final animated scene in the film.

The most interesting featurettes deal with the puppet artistry of the film: "The Animators: The Breath of Life" (6 minutes) and "Making Puppets Tick" (6 minutes) give a fascinating glimpse at the labor that went into making the film's characters come to life.

Finally, the special features wrap up with a 13-minute show of the pre-production galleries, an option to watch the film with a music-only track, and the theatrical trailer.

Final Thoughts

This lovingly produced stop-motion animated feature brings to life a Gothic tale from Burton's wild imagination, with all the crazy details and unexpected twists that we might expect from the story of a timid young man who accidentally marries a corpse. The natural tendency is to compare Corpse Bride to Tim Burton's masterpiece, The Nightmare Before Christmas; I don't think it reaches that extremely high mark, but the fact that Corpse Bride can take the comparison at all - let alone handle it as well as it does - speaks to the strength of this film in its own right. I know I'll be watching Corpse Bride again, and I'll certainly give it a "highly recommended" mark.

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