Deep inside the mind of Tim Burton is a forever-fertile, expressionist world of tall trees, pointy buildings, inky-black crows and pallid outsiders. These dark shadows shaped Gotham, inspired Edward and seeded the Sleepy Hollow. Yet, outside book The Melancholy Death Of Oyster Boy and shorts Vincent and The World Of Stain Boy, it’s a world yet to be granted a full, wondrous, macabre feature of its own. Until now...
Visually, Burton’s second film of 2005 takes off from 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas and replaces the iconic, yet impersonal, Pumpkin King with Burton-on-screen, white-as-a-sheet oddball Victor. However, while the story’s more human, advances in animation during the past 12 Pixar-dominated years have taken away much of Nightmare’s ropey charm. Indeed, for all the painstaking model movements, Corpse Bride often seems more computer-illustrated than puppeted.
The feel, though, is more pure Burton than any previous feature – a cosy film with familiar actors (Johnny Depp, missus Helena Bonham Carter, Christopher Lee), neat references to his passions (Victor and Victoria... Glen Or Glenda?) and even a sly nod to Vincent Price. Crammed with terrific characters (Lee’s Pastor Galswells, Richard E Grant’s Barkis Bittern and every single skeleton), never before have Burton’s sketches spilled so freely onto screen. By having a purgatory existence where death is warmed up to 11, his jabs at the banality of existence have also never been so obvious. In essence, he’s saying that, often, you’re better off dead.
Alas, at only 76 minutes, there’s no time to say much else. While not after the ins-and-outs of borderline necrophilia, more on Victor’s life-changing decisions would be useful. Also, crucially, Danny Elfman’s score isn’t up to scratch – with nothing in Nightmare’s ‘What’s This?’ class, the music just apes old scores and ends up sputtering rather than sparking. You’ll remember how pretty everything looks and how Burton’s still king of the kooks. But not much more.
Inspired nuances straight from the Burton sketchbook hold attention, but, plotwise, the trip from scribble to screen proves a medium too far.