Friday, December 30, 2005

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride 

Today we finally caught up with this film. I’m pleased (and a little surprised) to say that I thoroughly enjoyed Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride! What a tight, well-told, imaginative and effective piece of cinema this proved to be!

With the PG rating, I must admit I had some reservations about how sensitive children might deal with the issues of life and death that this film presents (not to mention the visions of cavorting skeletons and dead characters looking a little the worse for wear). It begins like a far more traditional children’s film using animated figures (such as those old Rankin Bass Christmas specials), with somewhat stilted figures inhabiting a well modelled village.

The contrasting colours – rendering the world of the living in black and white, but mostly greys, as opposed to the more colourful world of the dead – subtley provides a thematic foundation that lends credibility to this world and its characters.

I was sold at the point where Victor started playing the piano, with complete fidelity and accuracy to the piece we were hearing (a rarity in live action films, not to mention animation!). Already a sense of respect for both viewer and work was strikingly apparent, and I relaxed and enjoyed all that followed.

Skeletons – a beloved staple of animators – sing, dance and work through imaginative musical routines that hark right back to Disney’s early Danse Macabre Silly Symphony. They don’t outstay their welcome. In this film, even while working with a potentially high grossness factor, Burton and Co. manage to reign themselves in and maintain a sense of sweetness and wonder amid the darkness. What is pleasing is the sense Burton conveys of a somewhat macabre, but completely non-malevolent world of dead characters. While the living plot, scheme and manipulate, the dead are in many senses powerless, as well as for the most part good-humoured.

The tall and slender figures of the main characters has meant that shots are often set up almost diagonally - camerawork and lighting are skillfully combined with figure animation throughout. The voice acting is consistently strong, featuring Burton regulars Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter among a stellar cast.

There is real joy in the character designs. The figure of Emily, the Corpse Bride, is rendered romantically and with affection: even with a skeletal arm and leg, and a stray eyeball, she remains a charming and winsome creation. This character presents a slyly ironic realisation of the Victorian romantic vision of girls as frail and romantically death-like. Much of the story is driven by Emily, and also Victoria (the other young lady vying for Victor’s affections) and these two drive much of the plot between them.

One of the sweetest touches, and one where Burton shows real love for his characters and his material, is the gift that Emily gives to Victor – surprising, clever and completely appropriate.

Throughout this film I felt a sense of “How will Burton get out of this one?” as plot complications interwove with one another, providing conundrums and choices for a range of characters. What I felt in the end was a sense of having been driven deftly down some busy streets by an immensely skilled director at the top of his form: the film unfolds in some unexpected directions, but completely compelled me to follow. Overall, an imaginative film working with some macabre material, rendered with real joy and pathos - very enjoyable!

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Happy New Year Ian!

i also enjoyed watching that movie.
I was so disappointed that my local cinema only played it for two weeks before I could see it with my daughter. We might try and catch it in Melbourne. Is it stop animation or CG or both? I had a feeling it was maybe C.G done in the style of S.A. Great review anyway!
Anthony, I thought it was done with figure animation, but now I'm not sure (anyone?). It's definitely done faithfully in that style whatever. Our cinemas are still showing it once a day in the morning. I'm surprised, as I had kind of expected it to stay on a bit as a holiday release.
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