Victor (voice of Johnny Depp) finds himself wed to a lively corpse while practicing his wedding vows.
Directed by Tim Burton (Dark Shadows, Ed Wood) and Mike Johnson, The Corpse Bride is a stop motion animation film much in the vein of A Nightmare Before Christmas. It is also a much better film. Featuring a real world that is dark and drab, and an afterlife that if much more colorful and lively, The Corpse Bride is a love story that could have only come from the wacky recesses of Tim Burton’s imagination.
After flubbing his vows over and over again to Victoria (voice of Emily Watson), Victor flees into the woods. It is there that he practices his vows and comes to unknowingly place the wedding ring on the finger of a corpse. He unwittingly finds himself wed to Emily (Helena Bonham Carter), a woman who was murdered years ago but is still vibrant and full of (after)life. He then finds himself in the afterlife, alive but living in the underworld, married to Emily. All he wants to do, though, is return to the living world to marry his love, Victoria.
The Corpse Bride is a strange love story, to say the least. While the film is fairly straightforward, Victor finds that he develops feelings for Emily even though he is in love with Victoria. Of course, being the Victorian gentleman, he eventually comes to honor his agreement even though it is not what he wants. Once they come topside to be married in the living world, Emily realizes that she cannot be married to a living man who is in love with someone else. Especially when the someone else loves victor in return.
Emily is a tragic figure who your heart goes out to. When she marries Victor, she seems to be genuinely happy. She was murdered by her betrothed, Lord Barkus (Richard E. Grant), who ran off with her wealth after leaving her corpse in the woods. She has spent the years (un)living in the afterlife, forever in her wedding dress. She is a very sympathetic character, one for whom you wish good things would happen. Unfortunately, being married to a living man is not something that can be allowed. Victor and Emily return topside so that Victor can be officially married to Emily by drinking poison, which will send him to the land of the dead with her for all eternity.
Once they are topside, they find that Victoria’s parents have married her off to Lord Barkus, who intends to kill her and take her families wealth. Emily recognizes him and he meets a gruesome fate by drinking the poison that Victor intended to drink. Emily then realizes that she cannot be married to someone who is in love with someone else, and a living someone else at that. She vanishes, giving her blessing to Victor and Victoria.
As I’ve said, The Corpse Bride is a strange sort of love story. While Victor and Victoria have never met at the beginning of the film, they instantly fall in love with each other when they meet. Both have been somewhat abused by their parents and are shy and neither is outgoing. They are kindred spirits who could be happy together.
The animation in this film is top of the line. We don’t often see stop motion animation, and when we do it is something to behold. The design of the characters and their movements is just off enough to put you into the film, creating a fantasy version of real life but not creating a disconnect between you and the events unfolding on the screen. This is an animated film. It is not meant to look real and you can connect to that. Unlike so many CGI films today that attempt to look real, this attempts to look different and animated and it works better than half the CGI films and films using CGI special effects.
The one complaint I have with this film are the songs. Written by Danny Elfman and John August, they are just not catchy in the way the songs were in A Nightmare Before Christmas. On the plus side, there are only four songs in the stunningly short film. The songs actually seem a little bit out of place in this film. They seem unnecessary. They don’t especially detract from the film, but they certainly don’t help it either. They seem put in the film to enhance it’s running time, but that is not the case. If you pay attention, they do convey plot points. I just think that the attempt to tell the story through these songs does the film a disservice and the film would have been better served without them.
With striking stop motion animation, beautiful character designs, and a twisted love story, The Corpse Bride is a guilty pleasure of mine. I like this film quite a lot. With the exception of some weak songs, the film works beautifully. It is a tragic tale of love and loss, drawn through the mind of Tim Burton. If you enjoy Tim Burton films (I’m hit and miss on him), take a moment to watch this film. It has a fairly short running time, but you will find yourself enthralled with the story and characters and animation.
*** out of ****