Burton's Bride

Beautiful, but a little dull

Tim Burton's first visit to stop-motion animation land since 1993's exquisite Nightmare Before Christmas takes the form of a dark, elegant wisp of a fairy tale, extremely beautiful to look at, but often just the tiniest bit dull.

More focused than much of Burton's recent output but with an energy level that frequently feels more carefully calculated than inspired, Corpse Bride is the sweetly macabre tale of a delicate young lad (voiced by Johnny Depp) who accidentally weds a dead girl and winds up preferring the no-airs company of her deceased pals to that of the pompous living. The movie starts out somber and a bit stodgy, with a severe visual palate in effect that's just a half-notch removed from pure black and white; it's only when the film shifts locales to the land of the dead that it finally comes alive, paradoxically enough, bursting into pastel color and bombarding us with a slew of half-morbid, half-wacky sight gags. At that point it becomes a treat to simply drink in the movie's elaborate, self-created fantasy world, its crazy, off-kilter shadows and expressionist sets populated by chorus lines of dancing skeletons direct from the Day of the Dead (the Mexican holiday, that is, not the Romero film).

Still Hollywood's most way-out-of-the-closet necrophiliac, Burton may be the only guy working in the movies today who can make a rotting corpse look cute, and while Corpse Bride isn't quite the instant classic we were hoping for, it's certainly a more satisfying manifestation of this filmmaker's sensibility than, say, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Also featuring the voices of Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Albert Finney and Christopher Lee.

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (PG) opens Sept. 23 at local theaters. 3.5 stars

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