Following “Edward Scissorhands”, “Beetlejuice”, and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” comes Tim Burton’s 2005 “Corpse Bride”. Created using the same stop-motion animation as “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, Burton has created two fantastical worlds: the world of the living and the world of the dead. The film centers on young Victor and his unintentional marriage to a corpse. With the talents of Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, and Christopher Lee leading the way, both worlds come vividly to life.
The setting is a sort of pre-Victorian Britain: dark, dismal, and depressing. We are introduced to the families of Victor (Depp) and Victoria (Watson), soon to be wed in an arranged marriage. Victor’s family is lower class, self-satisfied, and has enough money to be comfortable. Victoria’s family, however, is upper class, haughty, and without a penny to their name. The marriage is favorable to both families, bringing one up from the lower class and bringing the other some money to ease their misfortunes. When practicing his vows, however, Victor pretends to wed a nearby branch only to find himself wed to a corpse bride. From here, Victor must find a way to escape his unfortunate situation and return to the woman he loves.
Teaming up once again, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have made a beautiful story. Burton’s animation is signature: no other animated films have the same color and life that Burton’s do. The use of color to contrast the world of the living and the world of the dead is subtle but effective. “Upstairs”, the world of the living is a dark, gray, uninviting place. The inhabitants are restricted by societal rules and dragged down by their poverty or unsatisfying lives. “Downstairs”, however, the world of the dead is a vibrant scene. Clothing is much more colorful, characters are constantly drinking and singing, and everyone is happy to be where they are. In effect, Burton has created a living world that is essentially dead, and a dead world that is very much alive. Each character has its own unique body type, and the puppets used during animation were meticulously crafted. The way that Burton gives life to each character through this old form of filmmaking gives his films a special and unique sensibility that is not matched by any other director. After the worlds are imagined and the puppets created, it is the wonderful acting that brings the whole story to life. Depp and Carter (playing the part of the Corpse Bride) have a strong chemistry, and with such strong supporting roles performed by Christopher Lee and Emily Watson, among others, it is no surprise that this world was successfully created.
Another fantastic pairing is that of Tim Burton and composer Danny Elfman. Starting out in the band Oingo Boingo, Elfman and Burton became friends early in both of their careers. Together they have created a characteristic sound in films like “The Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Beetlejuice”. His use of mallet percussion and synthesizers creates a world that sounds foreign and haunting, but frequently is comical and entertaining. In “Corpse Bride” Elfman uses harpsichord and organ to create “Victor’s Theme”, which is first heard as Victor plays the piano before meeting Victoria. It is in this scene that they first meet and fall in love, and this theme becomes extrapolated to represent both Victor and their love for each other. Later in the film, Victor and the Corpse Bride play a duet on the piano in the world of the dead. Here, Victor believes that he has lost Victoria to another man and is promising himself to the Corpse Bride. Again, his theme is played, but it has become an intricate duet, spinning out of the first lonely solo. Elfman’s music is strange and beautiful, nicely accentuating the characters and setting of this film.
For Tim Burton fans, this is an absolute must-see. For those who do not usually enjoy Burton’s films, it is still worth the couple hours of your time. It is a beautiful movie, both haunting and heartwarming. Between the animation, the acting, and the music, it is impossible to say that this movie is not worth the time. Watch this movie. You will be glad you did.