Corpse Bride

Nobody does Disney like Tim Burton – which might be saying less than you’d imagine.
No one but the director of the cult classic The Nightmare Before Christmas could reinvent Jiminy the cricket as a talking maggot living in the skull of an undead bride. What’s incredible about Burton isn’t so much his grotesque imagination as the way he reels it in to create weird but accessible films. Burton’s goth is less creepy than oddly amusing, less Marilyn Manson than Addams Family, and this lends a kind of sweetness to his new film Corpse Bride.
Like any good Disney film, Corpse Bride has its villains: Parental figures that use their children as pawns, a good-for-nothing gigolo, and a stern cleric who try to lock love away in customs. The world is colored in grays and silvers, washed out, exhausted: An old place where people linger through life, a kind of purgatory, and only a love sacrifice can save it from ruin.   
Victor (Johnny Depp) and Victoria (Emily Watson) are forced into a planned wedding that will lock his wealthy working-class family to her failing aristocratic one, consolidating wealth and society to both houses. It’s a seedy union, blessed by a priest who seems more concerned with ritual than true love, but when Victor finally meets his soon-to-be bride he feels relieved.
Although the wedding is outside of their control, Victor and Victoria are kindred souls strangely outside of the political forces drawing them together. He’s an affected androgynous fop; she’s a mousey, pouty bundle of mumbles. You wouldn’t expect sparks to fly from these wallflowers and they don’t, but it’s obvious these two are meant to be together.
When Victor bungles his vows during rehearsal, however, the families turn on him, practically chasing him from the chapel. Alone in a dark forest he tries to memorize the ceremony when he accidentally summons a restless soul, the corpse bride, Emily (Helena Carter). Cursed to linger as an undead zombie until she can fulfill matrimonial vows cut short by a diabolical murder – her own – Emily brings Victor home with her, happy to have completed her destiny.   
But Victor is understandably dismayed at the turn of events that have left him married, not to his mousey soul mate, but to a walking corpse.
Still, Emily is more voluptuous and sultry than Victoria with her full Angelina Jolie
lips and stunning figure. True, one of her eyes has the unfortunate tendency to roll out when she laughs, but she’s a much better developed character. In a lovely song and dance routine performed by a maggot and a black widow, the pair urges Emily to show Victor her real self, and discounting the moral imperative against necrophilia there’s no good reason why any sane man would choose Victoria.
But this being Disney as reinterpreted by a harmless goth, Victor chooses Victoria. As with The Nightmare Before Christmas, the final third of the film documents how worlds collide, showing ghouls in the living realm. Some of it is funny, some mildly touching, but it never reaches the level of surreal imagination of Burton’s earlier film.
It could well be that Corpse Bride suffers from comparison to The Nightmare Before Christmas. Although it is in virtually every respect a better film, it doesn’t seem nearly as innovative or daring. Like Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory released earlier this summer, Corpse feels derivative and trite; charming, but ultimately unsatisfactory.
Burton has risked remarkably little in this gothic retelling of what is – basically – a Disney film, and because he has wagered nothing, he gains very little, like Poe doing a Mad-Lib.


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