Tim Burton, every once in a while, likes to do nifty little stop-motion animated movies (which is becoming a lost art) like The Nightmare Before Christmas. Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride, like Nightmare, has an amusingly morbid feel to it and is most definitely set in Tim Burton Land. Maybe that’s the problem I have with this new movie: Tim Burton has been here and done that already.
Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride tells the slight story of Victor (Johnny Depp) and Victoria (Emily Watson), two somewhat reluctant young people who are about to enter into an arranged marriage. They both like what they see when they meet, but Victor can’t get his vows straight in the wedding rehearsals so he takes off into the surrounding wood to get his head on straight and practice his vows. He makes the mistake of practicing his vows too close to the unmarked grave of the eponymous corpse bride(Helena Bonham Carter), who comes to life (sort of) and declares them married. Victor faints and comes to in the underworld, a far more lively place than his repressed home.
This movie clocks in at 77 minutes, which is great because it’s not that big of a story. The sad thing is it still feels stretched to fill up this short amount of time. Burton’s animated features allow him to really explore his preferred oddball style, which we first saw in Beetlejuice, and even a little with Large Marge in Peewee’s Big Adventure. It’s a shame that the story feels phoned in. I will say I did like the animation overall, especially the scenes in the underworld which were far more cheerful and colorful than the drab scenes in the city (which have a Victorian feel to them, naturally).
I believe I experienced a first with this DVD: I was far more engaged watching the extras than I was the film itself. The extras include a bevy of making-of featurettes, most of which focused on the painstaking detail of the stop-motion process. In one of these featurettes someone refers to Tim Burton as the patron saint of stop motion. Amen to that - while I have nothing at all against CGI (it's simply another tool at a filmmaker's disposal to tell his story), I have a deep appreciation of the older methods of story-telling and I like that Burton is keeping stop motion alive (and track down some of George Pal's Puppetoons if you're a fan of Tim Burton).
The DVD does not have a commentary track, which is fine because I'm not sure what else could have been said beyond what was covered in the making-of featurettes. It does inlcude a method for watching the movie with only the music soundtrack which gave me an opportunity to appreciate the amazing detail that went into each scene. The first time around I missed little things like a dead character stifling a burp and part of his skull lifting up. The movie is chock-full of little moments like this one.
I am not saying Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is a bad movie, I’m saying it’s an okay little film. I watched it again after watching the extras and my opinion of it went up a notch simply because I was so impressed with the filmmaking itself. The voicework (from an impressive cast) is impeccable, the animation is jaw-dropping, the characters are fun and easy to sympathize with (or hiss at). I'm just really sorry the story wasn't more interesting. Corpse Bride just missed being a classic.