Corpse Bride (PG)<br/> Sky High (PG)<br/> Nanny McPhee (U)<br/> Beautiful Boxer (15)<br/> <br/>

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

A mordant entertainment for the more cerebral half-term holidayer, Corpse Bride exhumes the tone and distinctive stop-motion animation of the 1993's A Nightmare Before Christmas, but with diminished returns.

In a dank 19th-century European backwater, young Victor is betrothed to Victoria, but at the wedding rehearsal he fluffs his lines. Then, via a plot device that creaks louder than the forest he wanders into in despair, Victor finds himself married to the murdered bride of the title. Can he escape her mouldering embrace and the Land of the Dead to honour his nuptials?

In truth, the spirit sags at the prospect of Burton returning to a furrow he last ploughed over a decade ago - can a 47-year-old director still get such a kick out of adolescent gothic? Corpse Bride does at least invest Burton's familiar, dark palette with new depth. Its basis is a Russian folk tale, which brings with it a convincingly Mitteleuropean flavour: the inhabitants of the Land of the Dead enact a snappy danse macabre for each new arrival, in contrast to the living's drab existences up above; and in one resonant moment, the long-dead reunite briefly with their families and friends. Suffice to say, the film's liveliest songs are also about death.

The trouble is, Burton and his co-director Mike Johnson have allowed themselves just an hour-and-a-quarter to get through their artfully unheimlich tale - which is not quite enough time to put any flesh on the lead characters' bones. Only the corpse bride herself (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter), along with her pet maggot, lingers in the mind - and she doesn't even get her man, losing him to the timid Victoria, a character you've quite forgotten come the swift conclusion.

Sky High (PG)

A breezy, not unenjoyable teen comedy, Sky High deals with the thorny pedagogical challenge of schooling superheroes. Take "streaming", for instance - everyone expects Will Stronghold (Michael Angarano) the offspring of not one but two superheroes to go straight to the top of the "hero" class. Instead, he flunks his induction at Sky High, a school for student superheroes suspended in the clouds, and ends up in "hero support". While the heroes are stronger, faster and cooler, the sidekicks' talents are more oblique: Will's class-mates can glow quite brightly, for instance, or, at the blink of an eye, turn into a puddle.

In this way that rusty device, the rivalry of nerds and jocks, is reserviced and kept running with plenty of cheerful special effects. Director Mike Mitchell also seems to realise how daft his plot is - a nonsense about a former student infiltrating the school to raise a new generation of arch villains. So he reserves the odd deft touch for some mild satire at home with the Strongholds and for the class room scenes, where the pupils study - what else? - "Mad Science".

Nanny McPhee (U)

Christianna Brand's Nurse Matilda children's books are the source for this sweet and only occasionally sickly fairytale. But for those of you who, like me, are ignorant of Nurse Matilda, Nanny McPhee is probably best described as Working Title does Mary Poppins. Thus the single parent of the near-destitute Brown family is, as played by Colin Firth, a blithering fool. And even as they dispatch nanny No 17, his rowdy children, all seven of them, look like they're on loan from some exceptionally pricey prep school. For all these twee trademarks, though, Nanny McPhee, in its own quirky way, a treat.

Unbidden, Nanny McPhee, arrives mysteriously one evening and, as played by Emma Thompson, quietly lays down the law to the children. Thompson also wrote the script, and its arch humour is just as well, because Michael Howell's production design and Nic Ede's costume design are a riot of luminous colours and over-the-top patterns. A high-calibre supporting cast (Derek Jacobi, Celia Imrie, Imelda Staunton, Angela Lansbury) revels in this high camp, as does director Kirk Jones , who manages not to ladel in too many spoonfuls of sugar.

Beautiful Boxer (15)

For as long as he can remember, Parinya Charoenphol has believed that he is a girl, rather than the strapping boy he was born as. But when he's eventually caught with the lippy at kick-boxing school, his coach has an idea - why doesn't he make himself up for his bouts? Twenty victories out of 22 bouts later, "Nong Toom" (Asanee Suwan), as he became known, was a celebrity in his native Thailand, as reviled as he was revered.

It's a pity, then, that, faced with Nong Toom's real-life torments, the film-makers have chosen to make a biopic of the most plodding and chronological kind. The fight sequences are choreographed well enough, but outside the ring, Asanee Suwan and the film as a whole is far less sure of its sexual footwork - still, the pre-operative transsexual Thai kick-boxer flick is a notoriously tricky genre, so I shouldn't put the boot in.

Comments