I respect Tim Burton’s legacy a lot and I admire what he was going for with “The Corpse Bride.” Not a lot of mainstream directors aspire to deliver movies that are more bent toward the Gothic sensibility with homages to folks like Edward Gory. Burton is a man who clearly has a love for the style, and I love it as well. Sadly, “The Corpse Bride” is a weaker approach toward the stop motion animation that Burton was mostly known for with “The Nightmare Before Christmas” for a long time. The aforementioned film is so much more charismatic and entertaining than “The Corpse Bride” in the end. Granted it’s not an awful movie, but it just feels like Burton is trying to recapture the brilliance of “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
He does this by concocting an elaborate animated film when what made the previous animated effort so lovable was its simplicity. Johnny Depp plays Victor a young noble man who is arranged to marry Victoria, as played by Emily Watson. Although Victor likes Victoria, he’s not interested in getting married and is most nervous about the ceremony as well as the pressures coming along with it. When Victor runs away from home, he spends his time in the woods practicing the lines he plans to utter to Victoria during their wedding. He’s overheard by the spirit of Emily, a long dead woman who was murdered after eloping with her husband. She brings Victor to the land of the dead, and Victor is able to experience a world built among the supernatural, where the souls of the dead hang out and dwell on the past.
As Victor gets to know Emily, he begins to ponder on returning back to his old life, while Emily is anxious to keep him beside her and convince him to wed her over Victoria. “The Corpse Bride” looks stunning and absolutely beautiful, but behind it is a pretty middling and forgettable tale that races to the finish line with the Burton regulars. It’s was also difficult to really empathize or enjoy these characters, as they’re all so sullen, including Victor who is too much of a mopey dope to really root for. Meanwhile the villain that Burton creates feels more tacked on to the narrative. Once we reach the climax, the twist writers Caroline Thompson, John August, and Pamela Pettler hand us literally feels as if it came out of nowhere. It feels like it was injected merely to add some kind of memorable moment in a movie that’s generally just middle of the road.
Hell in a better movie, Emily would have been a dynamic and lovable character in the vein of Sally from “The Nightmare Before…”, or Lydia from “Beetlejuice.” Here she’s just another supporting character who you’ll forget once the closing credits end. The performances are serviceable with Emily Watson doing a fine job, along with Tracey Ullman, Albert Finney, and Christopher Lee offering their own unique talents to the film. With “The Corpse Bride” Burton almost seems to be trying to manufacture the cult clout “The Nightmare Before Christmas” acquired. It just can’t accomplish such a feat with the lackluster narrative, and conflict that fails to grab audiences.