This movie is far, far less terrible than the other Burton-Depp-Elfman movie that year, but I have particularly disappointing memories of this one, as the previews made it look like an enchanting follow-up to The Nightmare Before Christmas. The film had the ingredients to be just that, including a stunning visual look and fine leading voice performances by Burton standbys Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter. But it was ultimately done in by two problems.
First, the writing is on a very juvenile level, with simplistic development and way too many cheap grossout gags. Granted, The Nightmare Before Christmas had its share of these jokes, but it kept them in check, and presented an overall tone of literate quirkiness. Here, the movie seems geared toward lowest-common-denominator kiddie sensibilities, which ultimately makes it pretty uninteresting to watch if you’re over the age of seven.
The second problem is that the film ducks its subject. The previews made it look like the film was a genuine romance between a human man and the ‘Corpse Bride’. In the actual film, he only marries her by accident, and while he briefly considers staying with her out of pity, his real love interest is a bland human ingénue and he ultimately ends up with her. I realize that Burton didn’t want to open up the whole can of worms (pun intended) involved in the idea of a real romance between the two, but the story we ended up with is a lot less strange, and frankly a lot less interesting, than what we were promised, not only by the previews but by the premise itself.
Both the juvenile pandering and the fundamental wimping out are surprisingly cowardly film-making coming from Burton, who, say what you will about him, has never been afraid to do something different.
Admittedly, the songs are vintage Elfman, tuneful and clever, particularly the opening number for Victor’s social-climbing parents and a jazzy expository song accompanied by dancing skeletons. The musical portions are actually the highlights of the film, including a piano piece played by Victor and Emily in a touching scene that shows a hint of what the film might have been like had Burton had the guts to follow through with his premise.