A Tim Burton film. Directed by Tim Burton. Music & lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Screenplay by John Logan. Based on the musical by Stephen Sondheim & Hugh Wheeler. Book by Hugh Wheeler. Originally staged by Harold Prince. From an adaptation by Christopher Bond.
Stephen Sondheim's Grand-Guignol blend of opera and musical theater is a perfect match for director Tim Burton's gothic sensibility. The result of their encounter is a superb screen musical that, despite early fears from the show's fans, preserves most of the score ("The Ballad of Sweeney Todd" being the most egregious loss) and, perhaps even more importantly, its spirit (regular Sondheim orchestrator Jonathan Tunick did the new arrangements). And yes, Johnny Depp can sing. Granted, singing in a movie is easier than it is onstage, but still, Depp is at ease with the material, if a little thin-voiced. Helena Bonham Carter is a bit more problematic as Mrs. Lovett (there's a reason this character has been played by the likes of Angela Lansbury and Patti LuPone on stage) and her take on "The Worst Pies in London" tries hard but lacks gleeful gusto (she fares better on "By the Sea"). More convincing are Sacha Baron Cohen, appropriately outlandish as Pirelli ("The Contest"), Jayne Wisener as Johanna ("Green Finch and Linnet Bird"), and Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin (a good duet with Depp on "Pretty Women"). Sondheim fans won't be disappointed, and the film should also bring new converts into his world. --Elisabeth Vincentelli