Dirs:Mike Johnson, Tim Burton. UK. 2005. 75mins.

Thefirst stop-motion feature directed (in part) by Tim Burton - he produced andwrote The Nightmare Before Christmas - Corpse Bride brings theHollywood fantasist's dark and fertile imagination to bear on a hugelyentertaining macabre love story.

Likethe two Shrek movies, the film has a fairytale backbone - in this case,a Russian folk tale about a hapless bridegroom's unwitting betrothal to a bridefrom beyond the grave. But the original fable is no more than a starting pointfor a darkly comic stand-off between the dead and the living, which has its eyeon irony-demanding parents as much as their kids.

Withits ravishing, neo-Dickensian visual style and a method of conveyingstop-motion facial expressions that is unprecedented, Corpse Brideshould satisfy audiences spoiled by the almost infinite possibilities of 3-D CGanimation. The star voice cast, with several Burton regaulrs, will give an edgeto Warner's release campaign - as well as pepping up the DVD extras.

Afterits out of competition premiere at Venice, Corpse Bride honeymoons inToronto before its US release on Sept 15.

Thestory revolves around an arranged marriage between the timid Victoria Everglot(Watson) and even more timid Victor Van Dort (Depp) - who, bucking the cliches,actually discover they quite like each other.

Bothhave overbearing, and unbearable, parents: the Van Dorts (voiced with satiricalbrio by Tracey Ullman and Paul Whitehouse) are nouveau-riche canned fishmerchants, while Lord and Lady Everglot (Albert Finney and Joanna Lumley) arefastidious but hard-up aristocrats, forced by economic necessity to marry theirdaughter into new money.

Fluffinghis wedding rehearsal, a despondent Victor wanders into a dark wood, where hefinally gets the betrothal formula right - and discovers he's just got hitched tothe Corpse Bride (Bonham Carter) of the title.

Theabove-ground town, inhabited by the living characters, is an unplaceable amalgamof London Victoriana and Eastern European medieval architecture (a similar meldof styles was used by Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki in Howl's MovingCastle), bathed in dreary tints of sepia and grey. Its inhabitants aredusty, cowed, mechanical - while the Land of the Dead is a vibrant, colourfulplace whose rotting, skeletal denizens have learnt to cast off their inhibitionsand have a good time.

It'shere that Mike Johnson, Tim Burton and their design team really let theirimaginations run riot. A wild, jazzed-up dance of the dead is the mostexpressionist thing in commercial animation since the drunken dream sequence inDumbo, and the gallery of caricatures has Burton's usual macabre edge -almost as if German Expressionist painter George Grosz had landed a job as aHouse Of Mouse animator.

Visualgags abound, with plenty of comic mileage from all those "love you to death"metaphors that exist (fortunately for the dubbers and subtitlers) in prettymuch every language.

Thesoundtrack, by long-time Burton collaborator Danny Elfman, veers fromatmospheric heavenly choir and tolling bell stuff to hipcat Mondo Bongo jazz.

Butthough the sideshows sometimes threaten to overwhelm the main story, CorpseBride has a good deal more dramatic coherence than The Nightmare BeforeChristmas. One of the most intriguing things about the film's emotionalmechanism is the way that it allows us to sympathise with both brides, the deadand the living, and to want happy endings for each.

Tim Burton Animation Company
Warner Bros
Laika Entertainment
Will Vinton Studios

Warner Brothers

Warner Brothers pictures International

Jeffrey Auerbach

Tim Burton
Allison Abbate

John August
Caroline Thompson
Pamela Pettler

Pete Kozachik

Alex McDowell

Jonathan Lucas
Chris Lebenzon

Danny Elfman

Mainvoice cast
Johnny Depp
Helena Bonham Carter
Emily Watson
Albert Finney
Joanna Lumley
Tracey Ullman
Paul Whitehouse