Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Movie Review: Corpse Bride

Happy Halloween!

Appropriately enough, my latest trip to the local multiplex saw me experiencing Tim Burton's latest stop-motion masterpiece, Corpse Bride.

In a world where animation houses are shutting down their "traditional" animation department in favour of computer generated movies, the last few months have proved that "tradtional" methods, such as cell shading (see the excellent "Howl's Moving Castle") and stop motion, in the form of Wallace and Gromit and Corpse Bride are very much alive and kicking.

If anything, these movies prove that what has made such CGI masterpieces as Monsters Inc and The Incredibles so successful is not the method by which they are animated but the strength of the stories they've been telling, and the excellence of the vocal talents they've employed. Recent damp squibs like Shark Tale and Madagascar have proved that cutting edge CGI doesn't garauntee you a great movie (either that or no-one can do it properly except Pixar). Disney have, supposedly, abandoned traditional cel animationafter the poor performance of recent cel shaded pictures such as Brother Bear. However, one could argue that The Incredibles was not far more successful than Brother Bear because it was CGI, but because it's very concept was intrisincally more commercial. Personally, I did not go to see Brother Bear, not because it was cel shaded, but because it simply did not interest me. Traditional animation can still enthrall kids, my own kids sat glued to The Black Cauldron which was shown on the Disney Channel the other day...and that's not even a particularly good film!

Anyway, enough ranting, what of Corpse Bride?! I've been a fan of Tim Burton's work since Beetle Juice, but his movies are often a bit hit and miss. I find his work often full of great ideas that just don't quite work on screen. For every Edward Scissorhands or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory there's a Mars Attacks or a Big Fish...neither of them bad films...they just don't quite work. Then there are his flirtations with the "Summer Blockbuster"...the Batman films and Planet of the Apes...where the genius clearly struggles against the corporate realities of Hollywood. It is in the realm of pure imagination, however, that Burton truly shines, with the stop motion masterpiece The Nightmare Before Christmas and now with Corpse Bride.

Looking through Burton's filmography it seems clear that he's at his best when working with Johnny Depp, and once again Depp shines when directed by Burton as the nervous groom, Victor Van Dort. Depp is joined by a wonderful cast of fine British actors, including Emily Watson, Tracey Ullman, Paul Whitehouse, Joanna Lumley, Albery Finney, Richard E. Grant, Christopher Lee, Michael Gough (who I though was dead...), Jane Horrocks and, last but by no means least, Helena Bonham Carter as the titular Corpse Bride herself. This cast is simply wonderful and they really bring life to the movie.

The visuals are nothing but stunning. As good as Wallace and Gromit is, the animation here is just ina different class. It seems so real. You buy into the world instantly as Burton's animators craft a world so rich and full of detail that it's hard to believe it's all model work and puppets. The contrast between the dull and lifeless real world and the colourful and vibrant underworld is very stark and serves to make Victor's struggle to choose between his corpse bride and his living and breathing betrothed in the real world only more believable. The character designs are equally inspired, although the appearance of Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott as Victoria's (Victor's fiance) father was surprising!

The music provides the movies highest point and also its one main weakness. There are two piano pieces, one when Victor and Victoria first meet, and a duet between Victor and Emily, the corpse bride. Both are outstanding and really give you a lift. The sound of the piano cuts through the movie so beautifully it will transport you to another place. On the other hand, the film's songs are a disappointment. They're not bad but they are completely unmemorable. This is a shame because even one stand out song of the kind that gets stuck in your head for days would have made the soundtrack a must have and would have elevated this film to the status of classic. As it is, the songs feel a little pointless and misplaced.

Overall, Corpse Bride is a wonderful movie and not to be missed.

Rating: 8/10

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