Tim Burton’s CORPSE BRIDE is Creatively Dead

It surprises me how much Tim Burton is accepted by the mainstream. Burton has always shown a love for oddball outsiders, be it Pee Wee Herman or Ed Wood. His untiring fascination for macabre imagery is the embodiment of how All Souls Night became the kid-friendly holiday of Halloween. He continually brings out talking skeletons, ghosts and zombies, not to be dark or edgy, but to entertain. And he aims young.
CORPSE BRIDE shows Burton being Burton. The living characters (save for our main love-struck couple) are all shallow, selfish and pious, while the dead characters are lively, caring and funny. But there’s nothing here Burton hasn’t been done before, and better. CORPSE BRIDE shows an artist not so much spinning his wheels as presenting the same bag of tricks like it’s still special. Remember when it was no longer fascinating to watch a magician saw a lady in half? That’s this movie.
Running only 75 minutes and padded out with songs and dancing, CORPSE BRIDE is as thin as CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY was overblown. So thin in fact that the villain sticks out like an improbably sore thumb because he’s the only character who’s not set to be married or a parent or priest of the marriage. So, he just stands around with no other purpose than to eventually announce his evil nature. And when the Corpse Bride tells of her murder at the hands of a mysterious stranger, there’s no mystery as to who that stranger will turn up to be.
The film’s thin plotting stems from a thoroughly uninteresting lead. THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS centered on The Pumpkin King, a really strong and fascinating character with a great deal of personality and yearning. CORPSE BRIDE’s Victor is nervous and shy, but he has no ambitions of his own. No dreams or quirks. I’m honestly not even sure what his feelings about marriage are, or if he loves his corpse bride over his living one. Victor is voiced by Johnny Depp and it’s possibly Depp’s dullest performance, consisting mainly of whimpering noises.
The best character is the Corpse Bride herself (wonderfully voiced by Helena Bonham Carter.) She’s given the widest range of emotion to play, and the character has a wonderful look. (She’s just corpsey enough.) Also, she has the most human looking face, which was probably a deliberate decision but only further points up the film’s problems.

See, all the other characters are created in a very exaggerated grotesque style, with gigantic chins, overly puffy cheeks and very small mouths. (The butler walks around with a sharp, pointy nose forever aimed straight up.) The look of the characters distracts greatly, and there’s no room for emotions besides the one-note presented by the design.
And what happened to Danny Elfman? The songs aren’t as bad as the Oompah-Loompah numbers in CHOCOLATE FACTORY, but the half-dozen ditties presented here are immediately forgettable. In particular, the underworld's big wedding song is wretched, and exactly the same tone as NIGHTMARE’S “Making Christmas.” It doesn’t help that Burton stages many of these songs in a flat manner. (Notice how much of the duet between the worm and the spider is just close ups of the two singing.)

CORPSE BRIDE has some amusing moments and a general desire to entertain, but it could easily have benefited from another twenty minutes to flesh out the characters and situation (plus a more interesting lead.) THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS was packed with small details, colorful characters and throwaway jokes that make it rewatchable. With CORPSE BRIDE, you get everything the first time. And a lot of it you got already from Tim Burton’s other, better films.


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