Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (PG)
This clever and morbidly funny animated fantasy continues Tim Burton's fascination (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas) with the interplay of the living and the dead. Sallow, diffident youth Victor (Johnny Depp) is about to enter an arranged marriage with the daughter (Emily Watson) of two impoverished aristos when he gets lost in the woods and ends up married to a pale and emaciated girl (Helena Bonham Carter), who would make a lovely partner were it not for the fact that she's, er, a corpse.
She whisks Victor off to her own Land of the Dead, where skeletal party people keep up a carnival swing, in contrast to the grey and gloomy goings-on among the living. The animation, which recalls the pointiness and grotesquerie of Ronald Searle, is wonderful, so too the voicework and the denouement of self-sacrifice emerging from the titular bride's unlikely combination of Miss Havisham and Brian De Palma's Carrie. Think of it, as Tim Burton does, as "just a love story with skeletons".
Nanny McPhee (U)
More Working Title tat. Colin Firth plays the widowed father of seven children who are so unruly that a multitude of governesses have fled in terror. Enter Emma Thompson as the rebarbative Nanny McPhee, bulbous-conked, snaggle-toothed, mono-browed, warts and all, who finally brings the brats to heel with her magic walking-stick, and teaches them civility.
Are we dealing with a parent's fantasy here or a child's? Either way, this compound of Mary Poppins and My Fair Lady has been gussied up with a repulsive multi-hued paint job and a screenplay that see-saws between the arch and the sentimental. By the end, proceedings have slumped into a pie fight, a sure sign of flagging inspiration. Only Imelda Staunton as the ex-army cook raises a smile.
Sky High (PG)
This superhero comedy appears to rip off The Incredibles, yet turns out to be a little gem in its own right. The premise is simple: the children of superheroes have to go to school like everyone else, only at Sky High they are streamed into "heroes" and "sidekicks" rather than jocks and geeks.
Freshman Will (Michael Angarano) has two superhero parents (Kurt Russell, Kelly Preston) to live up to, yet seems to have no magic powers of his own. "All I wanted was for him to save the world - just once," moans Dad. Wittily scripted by Paul Hernandez, it plays as a satire on parental expectations and peer pressure, enlivened by a raft of spiffy sight gags and smart performances, not the least of them Russell's take on the all-conquering superhero as a genial egomaniac. If only Harry Potter were half as droll.
Into the Blue (15)
I never imagined I'd be bored by Jessica Alba in a swimsuit, but Into the Blue brought me close. It's not the underwater adventure of treasure-hunting that palls so much as the cast: could there be a blander hero than Paul Walker? The plot is reduced to the devil (drug dealers) and the deep blue sea (sharks), with the sharks giving better performances.
Kurt Russell plays his second family man of the week, this time as a horse trainer who rescues a thoroughbred from the knacker's yard, and hands on the family business to his daughter (Dakota Fanning). Were it not for Fanning's annoying little miss, this would gather up the crumbs of goodwill from Seabiscuit and make a decent family snack.