Tim Burton gave the children of the world quite a gift with "The Nightmare Before Christmas."
Distinctive and daring, it was a visual spectacle that most children had never seen brought to life. Perhaps the most amazing of many amazing worlds that Burton has created, it is a classic children's film as imaginative as "The Wizard of Oz."
From the same minds that brought the world "Nightmare" comes another fractured fairy tale, "The Corpse Bride." And while it would be impossible to match what "Nightmare" did to an audience nurtured on light Disney pictures, "Bride" is perfectly executed dark fun.
Victor Van Dort (the voice of Johnny Depp), the son of fishmongers who made it big, is being forced to marry Victoria Everglot, whose parents are lords who have lost it all. Neither is too excited about the marriage until they meet by the piano in the Everglot's barren manor during one of the film's first scenes.
The Everglots, aside from Victoria, are a vile family, and they treat Victor with disdain as he unsuccessfully recites his vows at a rehearsal dinner. Victor runs off into the forest, practicing for the next day's ceremonies. He moves into darker and darker territory, finally getting the vows right as he unknowingly stands next to a graveyard.
And that's where the Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter) had been waiting. She rises from the ground, takes his outstretched ring and they are transported into the land of the dead.
The rest of the film follows Victor as he tries to go back "up" before a new suitor can make a successful play for Victoria.
The regular Tim Burton crew comes along for the ride, with Depp, Bonham Carter, Albert Finney and Deep Roy lending their vocal talents. Danny Elfman has once again provided wonderful musical numbers to go with a memorable score, and the rest of the talent comes from either "Nightmare" or other Burton films.
While it's true that one of Burton's faults is putting style above substance, "Bride's" simple narrative means that the visuals can go to great heights without taking away from the story.
The stop-motion animation in the movie is more polished than in "Nightmare," and digital cameras are used instead of film. From the opening shot of Victor drawing a butterfly that proceeds to come to life and fly through the city, it's clear that every frame was meticulously crafted. And while it seems like computers must have helped with some animation, no real proof can be found.
The heightened features of the characters (especially the Everglot father) and the way each character's death plays into his or her appearance add the dark humor common in Burton's work.
At only 76 minutes, the film could have been longer. But there's also something to say for it being short and sweet. While it won't have the lasting impact of "Nightmare," the film never tried to be as epic.
A simple story brought to remarkable life by talented artists. Too bad most producers don't follow that formula.