Sunday, October 02, 2005

There’s no life in Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride
Review by Sombrero Grande

Allow me to begin with what’s good about Tim Burton’s latest stop-motion animated feature film, Corpse Bride, which is how visually dazzling it is. In a time when computer animation is about as proliferous as “reality” TV shows, to gaze upon new stop-motion creations in action is startlingly wondrous. Not only that, but the character designs themselves in Corpse Bride make for a wildly imaginative visual feast. Sure, lead character Victor may just be The Nightmare Before Christmas’ Jack Skellington’s body with the head of the title character from Burton’s short Vincent stuck on it, but the others more than make up for that. Unfortunately, while the eye candy Corpse Bride offers up alone is clearly worth the price of admission, the film offers almost nothing else for the viewer to enjoy. About halfway through the film, viewers will no doubt stop being struck by the novelty of the visuals and realize they’re plodding along through a boring story with undeveloped characters, told poorly.

Since I’m officially giving a “thumbs down” to Corpse Bride, I have no qualms about taking you, dear reader, straight into Spoiler Town, U.S.A. So if you, for whatever reason, don’t want to know how this surprisingly predictable story concludes, I suggest you turn back now.

Even for a movie about dead people, the pacing with which the story unfolds is achingly slow. I was suspecting things would pick up once we reached the land of the dead, but no. Victor is set to wed Victoria (gee, do you suppose from their names that they were meant to be together?) but is having trouble uttering his vows without screwing something up. While walking through a Nightmare Before Christmas look-alike forest one day, Victor finally recites his vows correctly while placing the wedding ring on what he suspects is a twig sticking out of the ground. The twig turns out to actually be the skeletal finger of...dun dun dun...the corpse bride! Now she claims that she and Victor are married! ... There’s more to it, but that’s about as interesting as the story gets, folks. There are a couple of cute moments along the way, like when Victor gets reacquainted with his childhood dog and when the dead begin walking the streets of the living to find their still-alive family members, but mostly the story is utterly lifeless.

There are several songs along the way as the story decomposes (“progresses” just doesn’t seem to fit), but none of them are particularly memorable. The songs in The Nightmare Before Christmas weren’t so great either, but at least it had the catchy “What’s This?” as a kind of signature song for the musical. None of the songs stand out in Corpse Bride; they’re just...there.

The “jokes” sprinkled throughout Corpse Bride sadly all arrive D.O.A. You’re likely to find more chuckles in a graveyard than here, unless you really get off on bad puns and sight gags you can spot coming a mile away.

There’s little character development in Corpse Bride and even less character motivation (characters seem at all times to do what they do not out of any kind of real desire or internal impetus but merely because the story tells them to do so) so there’s really no way or reason to feel attached to any of them. Some characters, like the Peter Lorre-inspired maggot, serve no recognizable purpose in the story, despite enjoying loads of screen time. Even the coachman for Victor’s parents serves almost no need story-wise despite the great potential in his passing from the world of the living to that of the dead. Also, apparently the characters are either all blithering idiots or suffer from Memento-like memory loss, for when the stock villain of the tale pauses to take a victory sip of wine, not a single character appears to recall that just a minute earlier they’d poured poison into that goblet. And so the villain (surprisingly to all of them) dies, and now the dead decide it’s time to exact their revenge on him. So they force him into a backroom with all their weapons of torture, forgetting that since he’s now dead he CAN’T FEEL ANY PAIN as, again, was addressed earlier in the film.

It’s really a shame that so much hard work and effort obviously went into animating this film. Stop-motion animation of this caliber is easily one of the most time-intensive, difficult-to-get-right forms of animation there is, and to see it all done for a story that doesn’t even show a shadow of the effort put into a spur-of-the-moment kids’ bedtime story is truly disappointing. Bring me a body bag, ‘cause all the gorgeous stop-motion animation possible still can’t bring a breath of life into this Corpse Bride.


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