A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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 | , , ,

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