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Tim Burton's Corpse Bride

In Burton's World, the Dead are the Life of the Party

Tim Burton has always presented a colorful vision of the afterlife, and in his Corpse Bride, the underworld is a vibrant universe, teeming with vivid hues and high spirits. It's an inviting refuge for the gratefully dead, a jovial lot of 24-hour party people. And it sure beats the land of the living, a drab world of zombie-like creatures who are caught in the throes of their dull existences.

It's there that we meet Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp), a stick-thin young man whose eyes betray a deep melancholy, undoubtedly inspired by the dreariness of his surroundings. He is the son of well-to-do fishmongers, and they have arranged for him to be married to Victoria (Emily Watson), the timid daughter of impoverished aristocrats. And though the bride-to-be is reluctant to spend the rest of her life with a total stranger, she quickly warms to the idea. Victor and Victoria are drawn to each other at first sight, and if only Victor could remember his wedding vows, their union could be consecrated.

He can't. Victor stumbles through the wedding rehearsal, botching every line and accidentally setting his future mother-in-law on fire -- an ominous sign, to say the least. Naturally, the wedding is postponed, so Victor retreats to the forest, where he encounters the wonderfully preserved remains of the voluptuous Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter). Once again, it's love at first sight -- for her, at least -- and the enthusiastic Bride drags her latest beau down to the underworld. (Her last fiancÚ didn't quite work out; he murdered her on the eve of their wedding.)

Victor develops real feelings for her, too, but while Corpse Bride gleefully embraces its necrophiliac romance, it draws the line at bigamy. Victor's heart belongs to Victoria, and he resolves to return to the land of the living to win her back. Is there a happy ending to this twisted tale? You bet. But Burton takes his time getting there, wringing plenty of macabre jokes and spirited musical numbers out of his motley crew of corpses. He even allows them a brief opportunity to roam the world above, if only to liven the place up a bit.

This is Burton's second foray into the world of stop-motion animation, and though Corpse Bride lacks some of the abstract wit that informed 1993's Nightmare Before Christmas, it is an uplifting story with a thoroughly satisfying, albeit predictable conclusion. As a visual achievement, however, it is unparalleled. Burton and co-director Mike Johnson have created a gorgeous, ghoulish universe of dancing skeletons, decapitated heads and lacerated bodies, all of whom move smoothly about their artfully rendered afterlife. As he did in 1988's Beetlejuice, Burton succeeds in making death look like one big party, and we're all grateful for an invitation.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars