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Corpse Bride DVD Review

Corpse Bride

March 7, 2006

Director: Mike Johnson, Tim Burton,
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Albert Finney, Joanna Lumley, Christopher Lee, Richard E. Grant, Tracey Ullman, Paul Whitehouse, Michael Gough, Jane Horrocks,

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DVD Review

Tim Burton returns to the kind of darkly comical gothic material that helped establish his career and reputation with Corpse Bride (2005). He’s also gone back to the same kind of stop motion animation that he utilized so memorably in The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993). The director has even re-teamed with long-time collaborators Johnny Depp, Michael Gough, composer Danny Elfman and screenwriter Caroline Thompson.

The story takes place in a 19th century European village on the eve of Victor (Depp) and Victoria’s (Watson) wedding. Everyone seems to be looking forward to the upcoming nuptials but Victor. He gamely participates in the wedding rehearsal but his heart just isn’t in it. He’s clumsy, nervous and forgets most of his lines. He’s chastised by the Pastor (Lee) and told to go off and learn his vows. Dejected, Victor takes a walk through the neighbouring forest at night, rehearsing his lines. In doing so, he accidentally resurrects the Corpse Bride (Bonham Carter) who mistakenly believes that she is married to him now and takes them both back down to the Underworld. Victor must make a choice: stay with the Bride or marry Victoria as originally planned.

Many of the characters are rendered with exaggerated body parts done in a style reminiscent of Edward Gorey’s cartoons. For example, Victoria’s father has an impossible round body and two tiny stick legs while her mother’s hair starts off as a thin stock and then mushrooms out like some kind of petrified pompadour. The stop motion animation is flawless. It is amazing how the technology has progressed since Nightmare. The characters have fully articulated gestures with fluid movements. The attention to detail is also incredible. The sets are beautifully realized with so much to look at in every frame. There is a texture, a realness to this kind of animation that is absent in computer animation.

While the land of the living has a cold, almost monochrome colour scheme, the Underworld is a colourful place filled with all sorts of outrageous characters. There’s a pub where a disembodied head is the head waiter, skeletons play pool in the background while others break into rousing musical numbers. This world is dominated by vibrant green and purple lighting with the pale (yet somewhat luminous) blue skin of the Bride. Like the Underworld in Beetlejuice (1988), it is an infinitely more fun and interesting place to be than the land of the living.

There are all kinds of sly references for adults peppered throughout Corpse Bride. For example, the make of the piano that Victor plays early on is a Harryhausen, a nod to one of the pioneers of stop motion animation, Ray Harryhausen. A worm that lives in the Bride’s head speaks like Peter Lorre. It is a film with humour that will appeal to kids with references to things that only adults will appreciate. While the look of the movie is reminiscent of Nightmare and does feature musical numbers (but not as many, this is not a musical), this is where the similarities begin and end. Corpse Bride sees Burton return back to what he does best – Gothic fairy tales in the tradition of the Grimm brothers and that mix a sweet romance with black comedy.

Special Features:

“Inside the Two Worlds.” The filmmakers wanted the horror elements in the story to be somewhat whimsical. They talk about the differences between the living world and the Underworld – mainly they were separated in terms of colour and tone. The writers also adopted a lot of British stereotypes to create an upstairs/downstairs class structure.

“Danny Elfman Interprets the Two Worlds.” The veteran composer talks about the songs he wrote and his intentions behind them. We see him in action, supervising an orchestra. He talks about the inspirations behind some of the songs, for example, Bojangles’ tune was influenced by 1930s jazz music.

“The Animators: The Breath of Life” examines the stop motion animation process done on this film. Mike Johnson did the day-to-day directorial duties while Burton acted more as a supervisor, guiding the entire project. Even though they didn’t want the slickness of CGI, they did use digital cameras to animate the film as it helped streamline the process somewhat.

“Tim Burton: Dark vs. Light.” Cast and crew praise Burton’s unique vision and it was his influence that allowed the film to be made utilizing stop motion animation, considered by many to be a dying art form. It is also a style that he feels very passionately about and felt was perfect for this project.

“Voices from the Underworld” focuses on the cast of voice actors assembled for the movie. It was very important to get the right voice for the right character. Bonham Carter compares voice acting to doing a radio play where you have to use your imagination. We see some of the cast in action, recording their parts.

“Making Puppets Tick” examines how the film’s puppets were assembled, the way they were sculpted and then painted. Burton would do the initial sketches and had the vision for what he wanted them to look like and then Carlos Grangel would design them.

“The Voices Behind the Voice” allows us to watch a few scenes from the movie with footage of the various voice actors speaking their lines. It is interesting to see how much they get into the spirit of their roles.

“The Corpse Bride: Pre-Production Galleries” is a montage of how various characters from the movie were assembled, including tests for movement and so on.

Also included is a “Music-Only Track” that allows you to watch the movie with only Elfman’s excellent score playing.

Finally, there is a theatrical trailer.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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