Monday, October 17, 2005

Day 17: Corpse Bride

At once an exhilarating visual feast and a disappointing, shallow story, Corpse Bride is successful in creating an exciting world, but not in exploring it. Its main problem lies in its protagonists, passive characters who mostly wait for circumstances to revolve in their favor. The movie has a few good moments, but fails to capitalize on them. And yet, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable movie, probably because it is internally consistent. That and it’s very, very pretty.

I have a condition that is either genetically based or firmly rooted in my cultural upbringing. I like animated skeletons. It’s not something I have any control over. When I was a kid and saw an old Disney cartoon featuring dancing skeletons, I was delighted. Later, I became obsessed with the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion skeletons from The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Jason and the Argonauts. There are a lot of animated skeletons in this movie and they are very well designed and have just the right lighting, highlighting the texture of the bones and giving them a nice expressive color. There’s a pleasing weight to the skeletons, too, an effect that only stop motion can produce. I realize I’m spending a paragraph here talking just about the fucking skeletons, but, again, I have no control over this. There were so many dancing, singing skeletons in this movie, it was like something out of a dream I had when I was ten.

The premise is storybook simple, wonderfully so. Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp), is engaged to Victoria (who has the seemingly inevitable corset scene). It’s an arranged marriage in which the transfer of wealth benefits both of the two youngsters’ families. At the wedding rehearsal, Victor stumbles with his wedding vows to the point that the minister declares the wedding cannot go on until he can remember his words. Feeling the burden of saving these two families, Victor heads out to the woods, where, while practicing saying his vows, he inadvertently proposes to the corpse of a jilted bride. She whisks him away to the land of the dead, as she believes they are married.

The movie is clever in the way it paints the land of the living in grey, Victorian-era drabness while the land of the dead is a colorful, bawdy place. The animation is as top-notch and as inventive as it was in The Nightmare Before Christmas. But the story itself, while seeming like it should be a simple affair, is pretty stagnant. When Victor is taken to the land of the dead, he attempts one act of trickery to get him back to the land of the living, but after that, he mostly just sits around and waits for others to help him out of his predicament. Not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not particularly engaging here. The Corpse Bride is rendered with a striking scariness when she first rises, but her scariness disappears as quickly as Jack Nicholson goes crazy in The Shining. After a while, the rules governing the two worlds seem arbitrary and confusing (a bad step for any movie dealing in supernatural elements like this movie does) and, after we’ve revisited the same locations again and again, the two worlds feel too insular.

As much as it pains me to say this (being a huge Danny Elfman fan), the musical numbers don’t come off very well here. In fact, they’re a bit out of place. The big, bold, and brassy song that setups the back story to the Corpse Bride is the only song that seems to fit into the milieu correctly, appropriate to the New Orleans-esque land of the dead. The other numbers feel shoehorned in. The opening number suffers from this quite a bit. The characters singing are Victor & Victoria’s parents, stuffy, society people and they don’t look like characters that sing. Their song falls flat and goes on far too long. The other problem that the musical numbers have is something that has been bothering me since I saw Charlie and the Chocolate Factory earlier this year. I don’t believe that Tim Burton has a knack for staging musical scenes. The direction of both Charlie and Corpse Bride’s songs felt flat to me, not in tune with the music Elfman had written. The character and camera moves aren’t kinetic enough to carry the songs, and that’s too bad (particularly on the brassy one).

These problems are not to say that I dislike the movie. I enjoyed it quite a bit (see: skeletons). There’s a lot of cleverness to it. I really enjoyed the maggot character who talked like Peter Lorre and the way the dead came into the land of the living at one point in the film (though the reason they do so is, ultimately, boring). If I believed in star ratings, (I don’t) on a four star scale, this movie felt like the perfect three-star movie. Not enough to really sink your teeth into, doesn’t hold up to scrutiny, but it goes through the paces enjoyably enough while you’re watching it for its running time (in this case, a paltry 82 minutes). I wish that it had connected on a simpler level with its very simple story, since many of the plot machinations served to literalize and dispel a lot of the magic. Perhaps it would have been better as a short-form film.

11 comments:

Ash Karreau said...

I liked this better than Wallace and Gromit. You?

David Wester said...

I dunno. I liked Wallace and Gromit as a whole more. I thought as a movie, Wallace was a lot more solid and less frustrating as a movie. On the other hand, I liked individual moments in Corpse Bride with a deeper intensity than I liked any of Wallace.

Don't make me choose.

David Wester said...

Shit, I forgot to say "movie" one more time.

Grixx templates said...

I love movies and i'm very happy of finding a blog like yours.
To me the reviews do not seem to be late (here in Brazil - and mainly in my city) the movies are always with a delay of at least six months (most of the time, the best movies do not 'reach' the city cinemas).

hehehehe


De mal a pior

Ash Karreau said...

Don't worry, David. I don't even proof read my posts, let alone my comments.

David Wester said...

Your expository writing skills are funtastic! MOVIE!!!

tom hall said...

that was really interesting man, I can't wait for that movie to come over to the UK

LBseahag said...

Nice....thanks for the heads up...


my fave this year is "Waiting"

BeTushco said...

i cound´t agree more with you...

i really was expecting lot's more from this movie....

i will write my critic on my blog... it would be in portuguese.... but get there ...

jmeyer said...

The stop motion animated skeletons in the Tool videos are really cool too!!

Laika the Space Dog said...

My girlfriend forced me to watch this last night. It seemed to last 83 hours. For a start, it's surely a kids' film, why are adults watching it at all? It doesn't have any of the in jokes or hidden meanings needed to entertain anyone past puberty.

The DVD extras, which she also watched religiously, also give the game away. Endless homage to the sheer technical complexity of it all, but not one word about the story. Which, seeing the story hardly exists, is fair enough but films are remembered for the strength of their story telling, not the cleverness of their animation.

The characters are so dull, when a maggot is the best thing in it, you know you've got problems.