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'Nightmare' a whimsical twist on Valentine's Day
By M.V. Moorhead

February 4, 2006

If Tim Burton had his way, every holiday would have a touch of Halloween to it. The animated musical The Nightmare Before Christmas, which Burton conceived and produced, turned the Season To Be Jolly over to the ghosties and ghoulies of late October.

With Corpse Bride, now available on DVD, he infuses the atmosphere of the graveyard into a sweet, delicate love story worthy of Valentine's Day.

The tale, enacted by stop-motion puppets reminiscent of Edward Gorey drawings, unfolds in a vaguely Victorian setting, and involves an arranged marriage gone wrong.

Anxious, rail-thin youth Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp) is betrothed to Victoria (Emily Watson) for the financial benefit of her odious parents and the social benefit of his equally odious parents. The couple, surprisingly, take a liking to each other, but Victor panics at the rehearsal and bolts into a nearby forest. While practicing his vows in what he thinks is solitude, he's overheard by the moldering corpse of beautiful young bride (Helena Bonham-Carter), who rises from the sod and claims him for her husband.

The poor bride met her fate just before her wedding—she's still in her white gown—and she isn't about to let being dead prevent her from experiencing the happiest day of her…well, of her existence.

The rest of Corpse Bride concerns the disentangling of this cosmic misunderstanding, in the course of which we also learn the background of the bride's earlier betrayal.

The film's charm arises from the unexpectedly tender, even touching, emotional tone of the story, balanced by the cheerful whimsy of Burton's approach to the macabre (Burton co-directed, with animator Mike Johnson).

There's no sense of revulsion behind Burton's images of death and decay; he seems to find the whole idea rather attractive. The Land of the Dead is depicted as quite a jolly, elegant place, and when Victor visits there he's reunited with the playful bones of his childhood dog.

Even the corruption of one's own body is shown to have advantages—the maggot that resides inside the Bride's skull dispenses comfort to the lovelorn.

I preferred Corpse Bride to The Nightmare Before Christmas. Its only shortfall for me—one it shares with Nightmare—is a slight lack of distinction in composer/lyricist Danny Elfman's songs. Elfman is one of Hollywood's indisputable musical geniuses, but he isn't at his most brilliant in these two scores.

If Corpse Bride had a couple of really memorable tunes, it would qualify as a little classic; as it is, it comes pretty close.

The DVD: The disc is generously if unexcitingly packed with a batch of behind-the-scenes documentaries on subjects ranging from Elfman's music to the (superb) voice cast to the painstaking animation process, along with a trailer and a music-only track.

As to family suitability, this one is a tough call. The style and the pleasantly ghoulish humor should give it plenty of appeal for most kids, but it's possible that these same attributes would freak other kids out.

All I can say is that I would have loved it.

M.V. Moorhead is a former movie critic at Phoenix New Times. He writes regularly for Wrangler News.
































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