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BURTON DIGS DEEP ENOUGH FOR 'CORPSE BRIDE'.

Byline: Bob Strauss Film Critic

TIM BURTON's fetishes for all things icky and English are happily indulged in ``Tim Burton's Corpse Bride.''

Another stop-motion animated puppet show like the possessive auteur's ``The Nightmare Before Christmas,'' ``Corpse Bride's'' technology is next (undead) generation all the way. I was convinced half of the facial and clothing features I was watching were computer animated, but reportedly new materials and motors inside the expressive dolls' heads get the credit for most of the extra texture.

Also unlike ``Nightmare,'' which was his in design and name only, Burton shares directing credit of ``Corpse Bride'' with stop-motion professional Mike Johnson. It doesn't make the movie any freakier than ``Nightmare''; indeed, that Halloween semi-perennial boasts more outre imagination per painstakingly wrought shot. But ``Corpse Bride'' does feel far more - oh, how should we put it? - heartfelt.

Based on a Russian fairy tale, this is the story of two Victorian dweebs and the lonely dead woman who comes between them. Victor Van Dort (voiced by Johnny Depp) is the milquetoast son of crude but wealthy fish merchants. Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson) is the shut-in daughter of broke aristocrats. They're victims of an arranged marriage, but when they meet on the eve of their nuptials, Victor and Victoria genuinely fall in love.

Due to wedding rehearsal complications, however (Christopher Lee provides the voice of the vicar, which explains all you need to know about that), Victor retreats in shame into the forest. There, by sheer accident, he recites vows to C.B. (Helena Bonham Carter), who was murdered most foul the night she was to elope.

The uncomprehending groom regains consciousness in an underworld far more lively than his gray Midlands village up above. The place is full of partying cadavers and dancing skeletons doing Danny Elfman production numbers. The production design borrows curlicue ironwork from the ``Nightmare'' sketchbook, but has a lot more fun turning coffin shapes into hallucinatory, ``Dr. Caligari''-style architecture.

And the Bride herself is a nice gal, pretty in her decaying way and rather graceful, at least when her limbs aren't falling off. She's determined to keep Victor to his mistaken promise, though, and of course all he can think about is getting back to the living love of his life.

Plotwise, ``Corpse Bride'' relies on such creaky old standbys as overbearing parents and greedy suitors. And for all of their boneyard Broadway dazzle, Elfman's songs aren't quite as captivating as the career-best work just registered in Burton's ``Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.''

But any flaws are overcome by the sheer affection that the movie shows for Burton's big-eyed, creepy creations. It's not news that he's into this immature stuff. What's interesting is how, with ``Corpse Bride,'' Burton's love of all things ooky has actually matured.

Bob Strauss, (818) 713-3670

bob.strauss(at)dailynews.com

TIM BURTON'S CORPSE BRIDE - Three stars

(PG: living dead, mild language)

Starring: Voices of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Richard E. Grant, Christopher Lee.

Director: Mike Johnson, Tim Burton.

Running time: 1 hr. 14 min.

Playing: The Grove, Farmers Market; Broadway, Santa Monica.

In a nutshell: Burton's latest macabre puppet show is thoroughly enjoyable, if a little thin on story.

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Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp) finds himself unwittingly married to a dead woman (Helena Bonham Carter) in the stop-motion animated ``Tim Burton's Corpse Bride.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Sep 16, 2005
Words:560
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