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Case Number 10169

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Corpse Bride (HD DVD)

Warner Bros. // 2005 // 76 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // October 16th, 2006

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All Rise...

Judge Ryan Keefer married a corpse once, but that was in Massachusetts and it required a lot of tequila.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Corpse Bride (published January 31st, 2006) and Corpse Bride (Blu-Ray) (published February 12th, 2007) are also available.

The Charge

"Can a heart still break after it's stopped beating?"

Opening Statement

Tim Burton seems to have two constants in his life; a fondness for stop-motion animation (which he employed in The Nightmare Before Christmas and in parts of his films like Beetlejuice) and an urge to collaborate with Johnny Depp (Corpse Bride was their fifth film together, and right after the very live Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). So in high-definition, do 1080 progressive lines of viewing make for a better experience?

Facts of the Case

With the help of his parents William (Paul Whitehouse, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and Nell (Tracey Ullman, Bullets Over Broadway), Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp, Ed Wood) is one half of an arranged marriage to Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson, Punch-Drunk Love), daughter of Maudeline (Joanna Lumley, Absolutely Fabulous) and Finis (Albert Finney, Big Fish). During the rehearsal, Victor appears to have some problems with the marriage vows, so at the suggestion of Pastor Galswells (Christopher Lee, The Lord of the Rings), he practices his vows alone in the woods. He innocently puts the ring on a tree branch that magically comes to life and takes the form of the corpse bride, Emily (Helena Bonham Carter, Planet of the Apes), who introduces Victor to the world of the dead, which enchants Victor. Suddenly Victor has a choice to make; does he go for the dead bride, or the very living Victoria?

The Evidence

Written by previous Burton collaborators John August (Big Fish) and Caroline Thompson (Edward Scissorhands), one of the things that separates Corpse Bride from other Burton films that deal with mortality is the tone it employs. Whereas previous Burton films that dealt with death had a bit of a spectacle or wonder behind them, Corpse Bride almost acknowledges the transitional phase of death. Consider that Victor was petrified when he first met the bride, but as he finds out more about her (including her "reanimation" of a dog from Victor's childhood), and after finding out Victoria is marrying someone else, he decides he should marry the Corpse Bride. While death may not be something to be overly fascinated with, it is something worth acknowledging and accepting.

Along with the knack of displaying moments of love with effective poignancy, there's a lot more humor and charm in Corpse Bride than I can recall in other Burton films. The melodic pace of the movie and its several musical numbers lend to this to some degree, but this is one of the ways that Burton addresses the undead, by giving them enough easy going joking around to make them as harmless as possible. And perhaps that is what he's trying to convey with this film.

The 1080p presentation that Corpse Bride sports is really something. Watching it, I could make out subtle textures on the puppets' clothing and on their faces, and when Victor is trying to get a footing on a patch of ice, the ice textures can also be revealed. The film isn't too colorful, but the blue and violet in the bride's hair really stands out against the blacks (which provide an excellent contrast) that appear through the film. The pleasant part of the film can be found in the soundtrack, as the Dolby 5.1 Surround EX option is an enveloping one, with many creatures providing surround utilization, and just enough subwoofer activity without being overkill. If you want to drop the dialogue and sound effects, Danny Elfman's excellent score is an isolated music-only option to enjoy as well.

The bonus material on Corpse Bride comes straight from the earlier standard definition release, most of which appear to be quick hits on the film, with interview excerpts from Burton and co-director Mike Johnson, along with some of the members of the cast, including Depp and Watson. Elfman also puts in some time on a featurette where he gets a chance to explain some of the original music he made, and following that, the animators discuss the tedium of stop motion (hey, the end result is fantastic, but the making of it can be somewhat monotonous). The voice talent for the film reveals itself, and the production staff responsible for the creation and assembly of the puppets is next. The construction is quite elaborate and well worth checking out for fans of animation. There's some footage of the voiceover sessions that is in black and white, presumably to fit with the look of the film, but this is quite annoying and a little forgettable, as it covers the whole film in a tenth of the time it took to watch it. The pre-production diaries go back to the animation part of the film, as various screen tests showing the movements and expressions of the characters is the last extra on the disc. However at almost 15 minutes, without any sort of dialogue, things get a little bit bland.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I would have enjoyed a commentary track, or even an In Movie Experience as on other Warner HD DVDs, by Burton and/or various members of the creative team and vocal talent. Sure, Burton's not the most dynamic guy on a commentary, but it would have rounded out a fairly intriguing DVD presentation. To put it another way, the longest extra of the lot is about seven minutes long (with the exception of the last one), and I'd be willing to double-dip on this disc.

Closing Statement

When Victor is playing on the piano early on in the film, the piano is not a Steinway, rather it's a Harryhausen piano, as a tribute to the legendary stop motion animation work of Ray Harryhausen. It's the animation, combined with Burton's unique vision, that make the film a welcome change of pace from all the Pixar-inspired animation films that are created with an Apple and a few dreams. Corpse Bride was nominated for an Oscar for a reason, and it's worth seeing, as I've got a feeling it slipped off quite a few people's collective radar.

The Verdict

The way this film looks in high definition is worthy of praise from anyone, living or dead. It's an excellent film and icing on the cake. Not guilty.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 100
Audio: 94
Extras: 16
Acting: 86
Story: 88
Judgment: 91

Perp Profile

Studio: Warner Bros.
Video Formats:
• 1.85:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 EX (English)
• Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 EX (French)
• Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 EX (Spanish)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 76 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
• Action
• Animation
• Comedy
• Concerts and Musicals
• Fantasy
• Romance
• Romantic Comedies

Distinguishing Marks

• "Inside the Two Worlds" Featurette
• "Danny Elfman Interprets the Two Worlds" Featurette
• "The Animators: The Breath of Life" Featurette
• "Tim Burton: Dark vs. Light" Featurette
• "Voices From the Underworld" Featurette
• "Making Puppets Tick" Featurette
• "The Voices Behind the Voice" Featurette
• Preproduction Galleries
• Music-Only Track
• Trailer

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