With Tim Burton, it is understood that you're going to take a walk on the macabre side: a creepy guy with blades for hands; a cross-dressing auteur; a campy chocolate factory owner working out Oedipal issues. This is a dude who digs the dark, even when he's flooding the screen with Technicolor brights. So there should be no surprise that his latest offering is a homage to the love that dares not speak its name: necrophilia.
Yes, the titular "Corpse Bride" of Burton's latest animated creature feature is indeed dead. She's literally coming apart at the seams, putrefying at an alarming rate, notwithstanding her prodigious cleavage. Sure, she's cute, but she has a wayward eye that pops out at inopportune moments, thanks to a mouthy maggot renting space in its socket.
Weird? Without a doubt. A corpse courtship may not be to everyone's tastes, young children's in particular. But the movie has its appeal, especially those of the blushing bride herself, voiced by a pouty Helena Bonham Carter.
But she isn't exactly marriage material, as Victor Van Dort, voiced by Johnny Depp, discovers when he's dragged from the Land of the Living into the Land of the Dead and finds out that, through a rather unfortunate twist of fate, he's hitched to the moldering miss. And therein lies Victor's dilemma: Will true love -- with Victoria, a living lass (voiced by Emily Watson) -- prevail over the Corpse Bride's ferocious determination? Or will Victor end up spending the rest of his days picking up his bride's brittle body parts?
Tough call. Victor's not the strongest of souls. He's being dragged into an arranged marriage that his nouveau riche parents (voiced by Paul Whitehouse and Tracey Ullman) have orchestrated with the titled but dead-broke Everglots (Joanna Lumley and Albert Finney). Never mind that he doesn't get to meet Victoria, his betrothed, until the day before the wedding.
"What if we don't like each other?" Victoria, quite sensibly, asks her control-freak parents. "As if that has anything to do with marriage," her parents sniff. After all, business is business.
Good thing for Victor and Victoria that it's love at first ogle, the kind of instantaneous infatuation that you only find in, well, the movies. But that love is soon tested by Victor's bungling. He ends up beneath the floor of a creepy forest, hanging out in the Land of the Dead, where our determined heroine resides. As it turns out, the underworld is a hip and happening place, compared with the dour monochromatics of the Land of the Living. Those cadavers, they sure know how to party, and Victor is drawn in by the Corpse Bride's still vital charms.
Poor Victor. Here is a man clearly torn between two lovers, straddling the fence between life and death.
Based on a Russian folk tale, "Corpse Bride" makes for breathtaking viewing: It's set in a 19th-century European village, shot in stark shades of blacks, whites and grays, and rich jewel tones using not computers but older-school stop-motion animation. The film is tongue-in-cheek and wry, with kitschy musical numbers featuring singing skeletons. (At times, the dialogue was difficult to follow, which could have been the fault of the print we watched.)
But for all its charm, we can't quite figure out for whom the film is intended: Talking maggots and decaying bodies do not a kiddie movie make, and the song-and-dance numbers aren't edgy enough to appeal to adults. Increasingly with "children's" flicks such as "Lemony Snicket's a Series of Unfortunate Events" and "The Incredibles," the dialogue and plot lines are engineered to engage the parents -- with enough Pixar-lated animation or live-action theatrics to keep the kids distracted. Everyone's happy, or so the studio suits hope, but with "Corpse Bride," the result is a strangely disjointed hybrid, though tweeners will probably get a giggle from the gross-out factor.
Corpse Bride (76 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG for scary images and action, and brief mild language.