Movie Reviews

Movie Review: Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride – A Tale The Grimm Brothers Would Heartily Approve Of

Written by John August, Caroline Thompson, Pamela Pettler, Carlos Grangel, and Tim Burton
Directed by Tim Burton and Mike Johnson

In this day and age of glitzy computer-generated animation that is often more dazzling than it is a story, Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride is a refreshing change. It’s got a terrific story with fine characters, done in stop-motion claymation-style by hand rather than using computers.

Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp) is a young man betrothed to Victoria (voiced by Emily Watson). The two have never met, and the wedding is one of convenience. Victor’s family seeks to better their social standing by capitalizing on Victoria’s pedigree. Victoria’s family is but a few steps from the poorhouse, and needs an infusion of “new money”.

Upon meeting, the two become enchanted with each other and the marriage is less of a burden. Unfortunately, Victor is shy and somewhat bumbling and cannot get through his vows during the wedding rehearsal. The local Pastor (voiced by Christopher Lee) postpones the wedding until such a time that Victor can say the vows.

Frustrated, Victor heads to the forest, ring in hand, to work through his difficulties. As he works through the vows, he places the ring on what he believes is a tree branch…

Only it’s the hand of Emily, the “corpse bride” (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter). Emily now believes Victor is her true love who has become her husband and has the ring to prove it. She draws him into the underworld of the undead…

What follows is a dark fairy tale. It’s definitely not pure horror as there are many whimsical moments and few characters that are true villains or horrifying, at least not in the world of the undead. In actuality, the world of the living is more “dead” than the world of the dead. At the same time, this is not a Disney-esque fairy tale of princes and princesses in beautiful dresses and stunning castles. There’s a dark tone to Corpse Bride that’s more in line with the way many fairy tales were originally written.

Burton and his team of animators have managed to craft and tell a tale that seems to come straight from the fairy tales of old. The world of the living they create seems dull and dreary, as Burton uses largely gray tones to create the town and its people as they go on about the drudgery of their daily lives. Once we’re viewing the world “down below”, it’s brightly colored with varying colors and more upbeat music.

The people are markedly different too. In “the real world” the people have wildly exaggerated features. The good guys have huge, innocent-looking eyes while the baddies have pronounced chins, large hair, and other “ugly” features. Down below there’s a large selection of skeletons dancing around and other half-rotted figures with swords through their bodies in various states of decomposition.

Danny Elfman created the music. He’s going to be known years from now as the best creator of original music for films. The soundtrack is nice, bouncy at times, and suits the moment. The original songs are terrific as well. I would go out and just look for the soundtrack from this film – it’s that good.

The vocal talents are terrific. It’s hard to believe the actors are all alone in a studio recording their parts and then the claymation is done afterward as it all meshes together quite well. Johnny Depp handles Victor with varying degrees of timidity throughout the entire film. Likewise, Emily Watson handled Victoria with the same Victorian-era timidity that was expected in young ladies of the time period.

One character that was particularly refreshing was Emily. Helena Bonham Carter handles her with the same Victorian reserve, but at the same time, she gives her an air of dignity. That’s hard to accomplish when you have a character whose main goal – either when she was alive or deceased – was to be married to whoever happened to be convenient, but she pulls it off. Emily is quite a sympathetic figure throughout, having been buried in her wedding dress after being abandoned by her betrothed. Though I figured out the angle of the story early on, the way it was carried out on Emily’s part was great. There was no striking down of the betrayer when the time came, but a quiet resignation after having the strength to do the right thing.

Some of the images might be scary for children. The skeletons dancing around and people with swords through them, as well as the idea of death and dying, especially of someone so young as the beloved Emily, can be a frightening concept. That said, Corpse Bride was definitely not too scary for my 5-year-old who loves it. We’ve watched it over and over again since acquiring the DVD and he enjoys it thoroughly. There wasn’t one moment where the images he saw frightened him. I would caution parents to know their children and possibly pre-screen this movie as some of the images could be frightening to them.

Even with the somewhat predictable nature of the plot, I really enjoyed Corpse Bride as did my kids, from the five-year-old to the fifteen-year-old. This will be a classic in our family, something enjoyed by all ages over and over again.

Special Features:

• Inside the Two Worlds of Corpse Bride
• Danny Elfman Interprets the Two Worlds
• The Animators: The Breath of Life
• Tim Burton Dark vs. Light
• Voices From the Underworld
• Making Puppets Tick
• The Voices Behind the Voice
• The Corpse Bride Pre-Production Galleries
• Music-Only Track
• Theatrical Trailer

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