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2005_corpse_bride_062Remember the Fractured Fairy Tales on the old Rocky and Bullwinkle show? They were updated riffs on old fables and following their candy-coated summer hit, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp now present a film in that same spirit. Corpse Bride is a stop-motion animated film that brings life to a century old Russian folk tale.

Far less dark than the name would imply, Corpse Bride is a grim fairy tale about an awkward young man (voiced by Depp) whose nouveau riche family has arranged for him to marry a titled but penniless young girl (voice of Emily Watson). After a disastrous wedding rehearsal the nervous groom is sent away to learn his vows. While rehearsing in the woods, he playfully slips the ring on a tree branch and utters the wedding words. In the film’s scariest sequence the hapless man discovers the branch is actually a bony hand attached to an arm—an arm belonging to The Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter). In life the deceased girl with the Michael Jackson nose was jilted at the alter and now thinks she has a second chance at martial bliss in the Land of the Dead.

The tale of the reluctant groom and his new ghoul-friend is a simple story that really comes to life in the telling. The beautifully hand-rendered animation—each movement of the puppets was done by hand, frame by frame—is a gift for the eyes. The colorful Land of the Dead is a wild underworld that resembles the heyday of the Cotton Club in a parallel universe, complete with a chorus line of skeletons; while the Land of the Living is a gorgeously somber place that reflects the mood of the story.

Far more, however, than simply a triumph of art direction or stop-motion, Corpse Bride is one of the best movies of the year featuring good performances, a story with real emotional depth and fun faux baroque music from Danny Elfman.

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