Ghoulish fun. Nobody in Hollywood does it better than Tim Burton.

Audiences have come to expect glimpses of the former Disney artist's distinctively twisted visual style in every movie he's directed, from "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" to "Planet of the Apes" and "Big Fish." Forget glimpses - "Corpse Bride" is a fully animated fantasy that's 100 percent pure, vintage Burton.

In this digital era where computer-generated animation is now the norm, Burton and his crew decided to stick with the hands-on, painstaking process of stop-motion animation for "Corpse Bride." Using puppets made of steel skeletons covered with a silicon skin, the animators photographed scenes one frame at a time, making infinitesmal adjustments to the characters, camera position, lighting and scenery for each shot.

The movie took an entire year to film. Burton and lead actor Johnny Depp, both busy with the production of "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" at the same time, would work on "Corpse Bride" in the evenings after filming on "Charlie" had shut down for the day.

But visually, the effort has paid off. The action on screen is so smooth and subtle, viewers who've grown up on computer animation won't be able to discern any difference between this film and the latest CG fare. The characters are emotive, the fantastical elements are impressive - and the tatters of the Corpse Bride's decaying wedding dress billow and flutter in a more realistic way than any computer program has yet been able to duplicate.

On top of its delightful looks, "Corpse Bride" is a wonderful story. Based on a Russian folk tale, its central character is Victor, a shy young man. On the eve of his arranged marriage, he accidentally makes his vows to the deceased Emily, a woman who was murdered shortly before her wedding. She whisks him away to the Land of the Dead, leaving his sheltered fiancee, Victoria, to pine for the groom she met only briefly but felt to be a kindred soul.

In Burton's movie world, the Land of the Dead is a colorful, spirited place, where skeletons sing and dance and worms that sound like Peter Lorre inhabit the boisterous corpses. In contrast, the Land of the Living is a dreary, repressed Victorian-era village, where the color palette is muted and the inhabitants conform to the ironclad social dictates of the period.

Depp isn't the only famous name to provide a voice for the characters. Helena Bonham Carter, another frequent Burton collaborator, lends passion and sincerity to the unfortunate Emily, and Oscar nominee Emily Watson is the properly reticent Victoria. Christopher Lee is righteously indignant as an authoritative clergyman.

But unlike animated movies that bank on caricatures of their voice actors, "Corpse Bride" envelopes viewers with its original characters. Rarely will a flash of recognition ("Oh, that's Johnny Depp") break audiences' focus on having a good time.


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