Bride suffers from uneven script

Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) lights up the room in Bride.
Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) lights up the room in Bride.
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of movies.yahoo.com
The Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter) sneaks a peek.
The Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter) sneaks a peek.
Credit: 
Photo courtesy of movies.yahoo.com

Film Review: Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride @ Capitol 7

Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas had a modest reception when it was released in 1993. The full-length stop-motion animated film was a visual feast with a simple yet clever premise, made by a team of extremely talented artists and technicians. It was well-liked at the time, but hardly a huge success. Over the past ten years, the film’s popularity has grown steadily. Finding some piece of Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise is hardly a challenge.

Since the movie has become such a cult hit, it seemed inevitable that Tim Burton would return to stop-motion animation to capitalize on its popularity, and he does so with The Corpse Bride. It is based on a Russian fairytale about a hapless young man who accidentally marries a dead woman. It seems like appropriate subject matter for a Nightmare-style movie and boasts an impressive voice cast made up of Burton’s favourite actors (including Johnny Depp in the lead role). All the pieces are in place for another animated masterpiece, but sadly, the final product does not live up to these lofty expectations. While the movie is just as visually stunning as its predecessor, it lacks some of the dark sensibility and comedic energy that made The Nightmare Before Christmas a modern classic.

The main problem with The Corpse Bride can be found in its screenwriting credits. The script was written by Caroline Thompson, who wrote Nightmare and Edward Scissorhands for Burton, as well as by as John August, author of the screenplays for Big Fish and the recent remake of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. This collaboration makes the movie uneven. Some scenes have the modern fairytale qualities and morbid wit of Burton’s earlier, more interesting efforts with Thompson. But other sequences have the manipulative sentimentality and cheap humour of Burton’s most recent, disappointing film partnerships with August. The movie is littered with the clever black comedy one expects from Burton, but has too many bad puns and one-liners that fall flat. Similarly, the central focus of the movie is a love triangle, and while some of these scenes play like comparable sequences in Burton’s early work (such as Edward Scissorhands), others have the emotional simplicity of a Disney movie which is ironic since Burton was once employed at Disney as an animator, but left because he did not approve of the overly cute and sentimental tone of the projects he worked on. The Corpse Bride has both the best qualities of Tim Burton’s early work and worst qualities of his recent output. It is as if he was trying to recapture the style of his early career, but was unable to remember exactly how he did it.

Fortunately, on a visual level The Corpse Bride doesn’t disappoint. Gone are the bright lighting and candy colours of Big Fish and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and in their place are the dark hues and German Expressionist set design of Beetlejuice and Batman. The lighting and camera work are just as expressive as a live action movie, and the result is an almost surrealist visual style. Despite the problems with the screenplay, The Corpse Bride perfectly recreates the visuals of the Nightmare Before Christmas. Unfortunately, the same cannot can be said for The Corpse Bride’s musical numbers. The songs for The Nightmare Before Christmas were written by Tim Burton and Danny Elfman before a script had been produced.

As a result, the screenplay was constructed around these songs, making them a vital part of the movie. In The Corpse Bride you can tell that the songs were simply crammed into the plot of an existing story. They are placed sporadically throughout the movie and while they are fun to watch, they really add nothing to the film.

Perhaps I am being too hard on The Corpse Bride. It is definitely an enjoyable piece of entertainment, and it should be a great success with children. The failings of the movie will not be as noticeable to a young audience or to anyone unfamiliar with The Nightmare Before Christmas. The problem is that The Corpse Bride has been made mainly for the large cult audience that has embraced that earlier film.

While it should be popular with that crowd, I doubt that Corpse Bride merchandise will be as unavoidable as that of The Nightmare Before Christmas. It is also worth noting that the director of Nightmare, Henry Selick, was not involved with The Corpse Bride (Burton was actually only a producer and writer on Nightmare). Had Selick been involved, he might have balked at John August’s contributions to the screenplay and focused more on the dark and subversive material in the movie. Selick also made the stop-motion adaptation of James and the Giant Peach, which did not suffer from any of the failings of The Corpse Bride.

But this is a moot point. Tim Burton co-directed the movie with Mike Johnson, and while they have made a well-crafted and effective children’s movie, it is unlikely that The Corpse Bride will have either the crossover success or the longevity of The Nightmare Before Christmas.

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