The Barenaked Archives – Corpse Bride

From 2003 up until 2007, I was lucky enough to have “movie reviewer” as my job description. As such, I’ve built up a *lot* of reviews for just about every movie that came out during those years, as well as reviews of classic movies.

The Barenaked Archives are reviews that I did for two previous websites. Sadly, they are both gone, so this is now the only place online you can see these old columns.

Gallows Humor

Corpse Bride posterI have a confession to make. I never saw The Nightmare Before Christmas. Judging by the reactions from most people my age when they learn that fact, I apparently missed out on some generation-defining moment.

Since then, I have become considerably less leery of movies involving the walking, talking dead, so a reaction to the Corpse Bride trailer was more along the lines of “Cool! A skeleton band!” and less a terrified “Oh my God, they kidnapped Santa!

Thus, watching Corpse Bride brought two things to mind. One, kids are definitely braver and more morbid than we adults want to give them credit for. Two, movies do not have to be two hours long to be good.

Clocking in at a brisk 76 minutes, Corpse Bride is a charming little Gothic fairy tale that will entertain both children and adults, as evidenced by the enthusiastic kicking the back of my chair received from one overly-excited tyke.

Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) is engaged to Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson), a very pretty young woman whom he’s never met. When he bungles his vows and makes a fool of himself at their rehearsal, Victor escapes to the woods to practice. By accident, he winds up saying his vows to the Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter) and is whisked to the underworld by his new wife. Is there any way Victor can get back to the land of the living and his breathing betrothed?

There’s an impressive list of voice talent attached to this movie: the aforementioned Depp, Watson, and Carter, plus Albert Finney, Christopher Lee, Tracy Ullman, and Michael Gough. You know it’s a good animated movie when you can’t tell who’s voicing who until the credits roll. (Well, except Christopher Lee, but the man’s voice is scarily distinctive and it works here. It’s great.)

The movie is visually striking, with a marked difference between the drab and lifeless “upstairs” and the colorful, jazzy atmosphere of the land of the dead. (Think there’s some commentary there? Nah…) The dialogue is pretty snappy, and they make some good puns, where “good” means “not cheesy.”

The stop-motion animation allows for some fantastic character construction that will garner laughs in and of itself, and the characters are nothing to sneeze at either. There’s Maggot, a more twisted version of Jiminy Cricket who resides in the Corpse Bride’s head; Victoria’s greedy, grumpy parents, who are deliciously fun to hate; and Bonejangles, a charismatic one-eyed skeleton crooner voiced by composer Danny Elfman.

Speaking of Elfman, he outdoes himself with the “Corpse Bride” song, easily the most fun out of the bunch, and that’s saying something. The music is one of the best things about the movie, matching the visuals pace for pace and making them even better.

With such a short movie, you may expect the pace to be off and things move too quickly, but that’s not the case. The story moves along at a nice clip, not so fast that you feel like you’re being cheated out of a film and not so slow that the younger kids with the attention span of a fly will be fidgeting. The ending does feel a bit truncated, like they could’ve added another few minutes, like another musical number with more singing skeletons, but it’s a minor thing.

Corpse Bride is a cute, fun, and funny movie. I just wish it had come out closer to Halloween.

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