You wait years for a stop motion animation and then two turn up at once. However, unlike the cosy charm of Nick Park's plasticine heroes, Tim Burton's world is a rather more macabre and the animation a little more finessed, however, for my money, Corpse Bride is all beautiful images, but otherwise rather uninvolving and surprisingly witless. Naturally, along for the ride is Danny Elfman who contributes four songs (and vocals on one) along with usual underscoring duties. It seems curious that some reviewers have taken such exception to Corpse Bride being somewhat predictable Elfman and yet seemed thrilled by Rachel Portman's positively uninspired Oliver Twist. I can't help but think that Elfman sometimes gets a raw deal; his style is certainly strong, but he bends it impressively in each score. True, Corpse Bride isn't his most original work and contains many familiar licks, but there is still plenty to enjoy.
Naturally, the precedent is The Nightmare Before Christmas, one of Elfman's finest, but Corpse Bride is generally more sombre in tone and the score is similarly more subdued. What is certainly in plentiful supply is the Elfman of five or ten years ago; moments evoke Nightmare, but also hints of Edward Scissorhands and others. Those who find his 21st century writing a little hard to take will certainly enjoy him rolling back the clock, stylistically. Unlike Nightmare's plentiful songs, there are only four here, two rather dour and two quite lively, and each mood has one intimate and one ensemble. According to Plan sets out the wedding of Victor to Victoria as told by their ghastly parents and is a fine, if not quite dazzling entry point. Remains of the Day is the one intentionally jazzy and wacky number, performed by Elfman, but somewhat lacking in cohesion and rather disconnected with the sobriety elsewhere. Tears to Shed is poignant and quite lovely, while The Wedding Song is a witty Gilbert and Sullivan pastiche, with some terrific ensemble writing and a grand conclusion.
The score makes only fleeting references to the songs, namely Tears to Shed which is extremely effective, but used sparingly. The score-only melodies are not, it must be said, some of Elfman's most striking creations and a lot of the instrumental passages pass by a little anonymously. Of course, he is too good a composer to let the time pass fruitlessly, but only a few stick out as memorable highlights. Into the Forest is a surprisingly terrifying piece of gothic horror, in the Sleepy Hollow vein, and the tension superbly well wrought with some dizzying orchestration. At the other end of the spectrum are the piano solos; firstly Victor's, clearly inspired by Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata and, later, The Piano Duet which is a lovely interlude before a little of the jazzy exuberance of Remains of the Day cuts in during New Arrival, the only upbeat cue before the finale.
Elfman's finales are always worth cherishing, although that for Corpse Bride is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a little more subdued, but the way it broadens out is like a well deserved musical exhalation after the intensity, intimate or otherwise, of the rest. The End Credits are a typically well conceived summary of the major melodies containing an amusingly straight laced snippet of Remains of the Day. Four bonus tracks from the underworld's liveliest bar, featuring Bonejangles (Elfman's character performing Remains of the Day) and his Bone Boys conclude the album, evidently deemed too uproarious to feature in the main body of the album and a nice bit of fun to end. One almost wishes that Burton had made a slightly more extrovert film since when let loose, Elfman's writing is hugely engaging and memorable. This is almost to Nightmare what Batman Returns was to the original; clearly from the same musical gene pool, but rather lacking some of the things that made the first time through a classic (and in this case, add in lyrics that seem somehow less inspired). Enchanting, if not quite magical, but still worthy of investigation.