Looking back at Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride

Our look back at Tim Burton's work heads off to stop-motion animation, with Corpse Bride...

I’ve got a… I’ve got a dwarf, and I’m not afraid to use him!” – Victor

The Recap

After his time in the chocolate factory became a huge success it could almost be said that Tim Burton, once again, held in his hand the golden ticket (you can add a groan here for the terrible joke). Made at the same time as Charlie and the Chcolate Factory, his next film was a new project that would see him take his first co-director’s position and make a welcome trip back to the beauty of stop-motion animation.

Set in Victorian England, the story of Corpse Bride begins with an arranged marriage between recently bankrupt Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson) and Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp). Put together by their parents, the two find that they really are attracted to each other and are more than happy for the wedding to go ahead. But when Victor makes a hash of the rehearsal he is sent away to practice his vows.

Ad – content continues below

Whilst walking in the forest he places the bride’s ring on the tree that resembles a hand only to discover it is, in fact, a real hand that grabs him, and up comes Emily (Helena Bonham Carter) who declares Victor her husband and takes him down to the land of the dead to celebrate.

While there she reunites him with his dead dog Scraps and a celebration takes place for their marriage. However, Victor is desperate to get back to Victoria and tricks Emily into taking him back to the land of the living.

When reunited with Victoria and declaring his feeling for her, Emily whisks him away again, and with no groom, Victoria’s parents arrange her marriage to Lord Barkis Bittern (Richard E. Grant) instead. And although he has a rather impressive title he is, in fact, planning on murdering Victoria on their wedding night and stealing the money he believes she has.

After finding out that Victoria is marrying somebody else, Victor agrees to marry Emily properly, by returning to the land of the living and drinking a glass of poisoned wine. As the dead arrive for the ceremony, the town is filled with fear, until people begin to recognise their loved ones and are happy to be reunited, if only for a short while.

Before Victor can fully commit himself to Emily, she realises his feelings for Victoria and reunites the two. When Lord Bittern arrives to claim her for himself, Emily realises he was the groom that killed her. He unwittingly drinks the poison meant for Victor and is taken to hell for his sins. Free of all the ties that bind her to Earth, Emily ascends to heaven as Victor and Victoria watch from below.

Ad – content continues below

Thoughts & Reaction

Based loosely on a Russian-Jewish folk tale, Corpse Bride is a sweet and touching tale that pits the living against the dead, with the dead coming across as more colourful and alive than their rather gray living counterparts.

Corpse Bride is a great example of what Burton does best – gothic fairytales which don’t always have a happy ending for all – and is probably the best example of Burton’s creative style and force within the last ten years.

Although a simple enough story, Corpse Bride is vividly brought to life by the wonderful stop animation used to create the characters that exist in both worlds. The detail and the movement is so precise that you sometimes forget you are watching an animation and are swept up into their world.

This is also accompanied by some great vocal performances from the leads. Depp, Bonham Carter and Watson make the characters live and breathe and, through the sheer emotions of their voices, bring a greater depth than to any other animated feature I have seen in recent years.

Ad – content continues below

Not all the credit can go to Burton, however, because the influence of his co-director Mike Johnson can be felt running throughout the piece. Having previously worked on other collaborations with Burton including James And The Giant Peach and The Nightmare Before Christmas, his talent cannot be overlooked. The fact he went through laborious processes to make the characters look as real as possible, including using clockwork heads to slowly adjust facial expressions, only adds to the joy and magic of the film.

The only letdown this piece has is its relatively short running time of 74 minutes. As soon as you’ve immersed yourself in this story and the characters, it is over and you can’t help but wish there was something more.

Upon its release, Corpse Bride was another hit for Burton, again confirming his place among an elite band of directors who had back-to-back film success in that decade.

His next project would be a surprising, if not interesting choice, telling the story of a London barber who was hell bent on revenge and not afraid to belt out the odd musical number.

Next time I will be taking a look at Burton’s last film of the noughties Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber Of Fleet Street.

Corpse Bride Key Info:Released: 23rd September 2005 (US) / 13th October 2005 (UK)Distributed By: Warner Bros.Budget: $40,000,000Box Office Gross: $117,195,061Best DVD Edition: Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride Collector’s Edition

Ad – content continues below