- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 22, 2005

Letting the dead worry about the dead, per Christ’s advice, is not Tim Burton’s style. The man who made “Beetle Juice” seems, in fact, to prefer the dead over the living. In “Corpse Bride,” his and co-director Mike Johnson’s creepy, enchanting new stop-motion animation movie, life on the ground is a drab, gray slough of despond. Below ground, among the cadavers, it’s a hootenanny starring the colorful freaks from that famous bar scene in “Star Wars.”

Quiet, shy Victor Van Dort (voiced by a boyish-sounding Johnny Depp) winds up in the crypt after rehearsing his wedding vows on a tree, an innocent act that awakens the Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter), who has been waiting patiently for a new suitor since dying of heartbreak at the hands of a runaway fiance. On hearing the vows, the Bride scoops Victor into Valhalla, where she plans to “live” happily ever after with him.

Although he feels for the Corpse Bride — it’s possible he might genuinely fall for her — Victor has a commitment in life: His nouveau-riche fish merchant parents have arranged for him to marry Victoria, the meek daughter of a pair of insolvent aristocrats, fat Finnis Everglot and his tall, frosty wife Maudeline. It’s a mutually beneficial union that stands to bring respect to one family and restore the fortunes of the other. Young Victor may be clumsy around the ladies, but he knows from duty.

This is exactly the kind of wheeler-dealing that makes living a cold bargain in a script written by Pamela Pettler, John August and Caroline Thompson, the last two of whom have worked extensively with Mr. Burton. It’s a childish mind-set — scorn for the business of grown-ups combined with a love for the macabre — which is why “Corpse Bride” will delight young viewers who are old enough to handle its morbid sense of humor and frightening set pieces.

There is, for instance, a maggot (voiced with mischievous relish by Enn Reitel) that resides in the skull of the Corpse Bride. And the headwaiter of Deadville’s nightclub is, ahem, a disembodied head.

Mr. Burton’s longtime musical collaborator, Danny Elfman, contributes a busy soundtrack that is at turns showy and elegiac. Pay attention to it: Much of the movie’s story is delivered in song.

There’s a melancholy beauty to the main-character animation design. Victor, Victoria and the Corpse Bride, each heroic in his or her way, are given cue ball-sized eyes that don’t seem capable of conveying happiness, and the latter’s skeleton frame is appropriately frosted with blue hair. She’s given the task of choosing whether to keep Victor in a world in which he doesn’t belong — yet (as one dead wag says, “Everyone’s dying to get down here”) — or to claim the happiness that she deserved in her lifetime.

This being the movies, we know which way she’ll choose. Mr. Burton and Mr. Johnson and their animation crew goad their imaginations yet more for an inspiring wedding scene at the movie’s climax.

Death claims a villain, too, which raises the question of where he’ll end up: In Mr. Burton’s rollicking afterlife, there doesn’t appear to be any room for bad guys.

***

TITLE: “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride”

RATING: PG (Scary images; brief mild profanity)

CREDITS: Directed by Tim Burton and Mike Johnson. Produced by Allison Abbate and Mr. Burton. Written by John August, Pamela Pettler and Caroline Thompson. Cinematography by Pete Kozachik. Production design by Alex McDowell. Art direction by Nelson Lowry. Score and songs by Danny Elfman.

RUNNING TIME: 76 minutes

WEB SITE: www.corpsebridemovie.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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