A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 121 – The Corpse Bride

The Corpse Bride – June 29, 2010

So very many puns and songs and little hidden jokes (like the Harryhausen plaque on the piano Victor plays early on, and I’m pretty sure a little boy in the church is supposed to look like he’s right out of a Gorey cartoon). And so much gloom! Really, this is like the epitome of Tim Burton. It’s the Burtoniest Burton movie. Dancing skeletons, consumptive Victorian characters and a corpse in a tattered and cobwebby wedding dress. There is no mistaking this for anyone else’s baby.

It’s a sad tale of a jilted bride, killed by her fiance the night they meant to elope and stuck in the underworld until someone proposes to her. It’s the sad tale of a groom finding himself accidentally wed to a corpse and trapped in the underworld while he attempts to get back to the land of the living and his true fiancee. It’s the so very sad tale of two sets of parents wanting to marry off their children to exchange money for status. And it’s the sob-inducing tale of a grifter who gets what he deserves. Oh, wait. Strike that last bit. That’s not sad at all! And neither is the one before it, unless you’re using sad to mean not unheard of but not terribly romantic.

Anyhow, the lead players are Victor, the groom; Victoria, his intended fiancee; their parents, Victor’s being rich but with new money and Victoria’s being poor but with heaps of status; Emily, the titular corpse bride; and Barkis Bittern, a jackass. Don’t worry, I’m pretty sure I’m not giving much away to out him as a nasty fellow. The movie isn’t super subtle about the direction his character is going. I mean, look at his chin! He’s practically Robert Z’Dar.

So Victor’s supposed to marry Victoria, ends up accidentally sort of married to Emily, doesn’t want to be, tries to get back to the living world to find Victoria. Victoria’s parents try to marry her off to Bittern, Victor finds out, there’s a couple of rather incomplete weddings and some Hamlet allusions, and then they all live happily ever after. Except they don’t. There’s a lot of singing and eyes popping out and a worm with a Peter Lorre schtick going on, and like I said, it’s Burton for miles.

Stylistically, I cannot fault the movie one jot. It’s lovely to watch. The animation is beautiful and if you like Burton’s aesthetic then you’re in for a treat! The thing for me is that while I do enjoy Burton’s movies, I don’t think I enjoy them to the same level that I’m supposed to. They’re lovely and they’re fun, but I’m not going to go raving about how they’re better than sliced bread or anything. I don’t know, they just don’t bowl me over. I can appreciate the feel of this movie, and the voice acting (really, the voice acting – look at the cast! It’s fantastic!) and the amazing amount of work it must have taken, but I’m not rushing out for Corpse Bride bedsheets. I never was very good at the goth thing I suppose.

Now, I did enjoy the movie. It was a light little thing, which is odd to say since it’s got so much Burtony gloom going on, but really, it is. For the most part. It’s a fluffy little love story with plenty of singing and dancing, just with Burton’s trademark feel to it all. Making one of the main characters a corpse doesn’t make it not fluffy. Especially not when you have a little skeleton dog named Scraps. It lightens the mood, you know? Just about the only thing that brings it down for me is the ending.

I mean, sure, happy ever after for two of the three, but given that Emily was killed by her fiance, that leaves one of the two potential brides without a sympathetic groom, so unless this movie was going to go in a distinctly triangular-shaped direction, someone was going to end up alone, you know? I know the end is supposed to be all sweet and wistful and aww, it’s okay because look, butterflies! Except meh. I’m just not satisfied by it. Why not a bridal boutique in the underworld? Why not sing with the band in the tavern. Butterflies? Really? It’s a bizarre ending to the movie and I’m left feeling like I’m not sure what I just watched. Fun, yes, but then with some things that just don’t match up for me. A pity, but still, I’d watch it again. I’d probably just turn it off before the end.

June 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Corpse Bride

June 29, 2010

Corpse Bride

I was really was looking forward to watching this movie when I first bought it. I hadn’t had a chance to see it in the theaters, and it was billed as a return by Tim Burton to stop motion animation – as sort of spiritual sequel to The Nightmare Before Christmas. When I finally did watch it, however, I was disappointed. I’m going to spend today’s review attempting to enumerate why.

A large part of it is that the music dosn’t capture me the way Nightmare Before Christmas’ music did. Strange, because the cadences are similar, the general feel is the same, and it’s undeniably a Danny Elfman score. But whereas in Nightmare I enjoy every song, and they provide the spirit of the movie, in this movie the music starts up and I have to brace myself. The songs, which are meant to drive the plot, feel like grinding halts – or perhaps more like something wedged into the movie from some other continuity. The score from the movie works, and I love the piano playing by the characters, which serves to establish much of the tenderness and connections in the movie. But the songs I can’t stand.

Another problem I have is that I don’t much enjoy the land of the dead as portrayed here. I can clearly see how I’m supposed to react to it. All the color in the movie is relegated to the underworld. The land of the living is all darkness and monochrome grays and browns. When we reach the land of the corpse bride we’re suddenly in a world of purples and greens and blues. The music turns to uptempo jazz. The dead are a nonstop party of laughs and visual gags. I know I’m meant to enjoy this exciting, fun, rich and supposedly hilarious afterlife, but it just grates on me. I can’t wait for the “funny” parts to end so we can get back to the somber world above.

Maybe it’s just trying too hard. It’s as though a focus group combed through Nightmare and attempted to extract the bits they thought would be most appealing to that goth crowd who buys all their clothes at Hot Topic. And the result is that it seems over-wrought. All too carefully planned and too deliberate. Let’s have a Peter Lorrie worm! Let’s have a cute skeletal dog! (Instead of a cute ghost dog.) Everybody loves when eyeballs pop out – how many times can we have that happen in one movie? Making Christmas becomes a song about making a wonderful wedding. It’s not as charming, but it’s clearly derivative.

The plot of the movie is paper-thin and simple. Young Victor, the son of a successful fish merchant, is being wed in an arranged marriage to Victoria, daughter of an impoverished but noble lineage. (And if you think that after Burton’s Ed Wood film the Victor/Victoria reference is accidental than you clearly are not paying attention.) Both families get something from the deal: Victor’s family get nobility, and Victoria’s are saved from the poor house. But the young couple have never met. When the skittish and easily flustered Victor flubs his vows at the wedding rehearsal he flees to the woods, where, while practicing those vows, he places the ring on what he believes to be a twig protruding from the ground. It is not a twig, however. It is the skeletal hand of a young woman who was murdered on her wedding night, and so Victor finds himself inconveniently and inadvertently wed to a dead woman, and not to Victoria at all. (And just when he had begun to realize that he liked Victoria after all.) Hilarity ensues! (okay, not really.)

The problem is that the movie is not about the plot. The plot is there to give Danny Elfman an excuse to create some songs, and Tim Burton a chance to create an iconic array of wacky and grim characters. Possibly with the merchandising of action figures and t-shirts in mind. If you don’t enjoy the songs and the deliberately grizzly humor however, there’s really no reason for you to be watching the movie.

My biggest problem with the whole movie is that I feel so bad for not liking it. It appears to me to be a derivative and deliberately commercial movie, but I can also see a lot of Burton and Elfman’s souls bared here. The aesthetic is so very Burton that it practically hurts. It’s like one of his sketchbooks come to life. An there’s a jazzy number that lays out the entire back story of the corpse bride sung by Elfman himself which seems like song directly from the Forbidden Zone. The stop motion is amazing (though not as mesmerising as I found the animation in Coraline, which is now my gold standard of stop-motion at its absolute peak.) Having seen the puppets the animators used, with their intricate clockwork machinery, I am awed by the accomplishment that this movie represents. The sheer amount of work displayed on the screen here is humbling. The vast pool of talented actors that voice the cast is a dream team of Burton greatest hits. Johnny Depp. Helena Bonham Carter. Christopher F-ing Lee!

The amount of care, love, and effort that went into this film is obvious. Which makes it all the more heartbreaking that I found it so disappointing. I wish I could love this movie as much as I’m clearly meant to. I just can’t. It does make me look forward to reviewing Nightmare Before Christmas though, and it makes me wish, once again, that we had The Forbidden Zone in our collection.

June 29, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment