The visual imagination of Tim Burton is probably unequalled among today’s filmmakers and when he brings it to bear on a project suited to his particular talents, the results are almost always unique and special. Corpse Bride, like Beetlejuice and The Nightmare Before Christmas, is an example of Burton playing on his home turf and swinging for the fences.
Now, if only the name of the picture lived up to what was on screen. Corpse Bride just seems like a working title, something you stick on a project until you come up with something better, just one step up from calling it the “Untitled Tim Burton Project.” Oh, well, they didn’t ask me, so Corpse Bride is what we’re stuck with.
If you’ve seen The Nightmare Before Christmas, the visual style of this picture should look familiar, but because the design of the characters and their surroundings is so well suited to this story, the look seems fresh and not repetitive of his earlier works.
In this day of rampant overuse of computer imagery, the techniques behind Corpse Bride are refreshingly old school, using a mixture of modern technology with good old-fashioned stop-motion animation to create the film’s lively universe, which is divided between the dreary, regimented land of the living and the colorful, jazzy land of the dead. Burton’s empathy for the outsider, in this case those outside of life itself, is at the heart of this movie.
The film boasts a first rate cast of voice actors, including many faces familiar to Burton fans. Helena Bonham Carter provides the voice for the titular blushing cadaver, Emily, who was jilted and murdered by her last fiance. Johnny Depp is Victor, a socially and physically awkward young man who, while rehearsing his wedding vows, inadvertently marries the reanimated Emily. That leaves Victor’s true betrothed, Victoria (Emily Watson), out in the cold. No matter to her dour, penniless but high-society parents (Joanna Lumley and Albert Finney), who simply arrange another marriage to Lord Barkis (Richard E. Grant), who fits five of the top seven definitions of the word “cad.”
Also on hand are Christopher Lee as a sinister preacher and Michael Gough as one of the elder members of the dead (and I’m not talking Jerry Garcia here). Danny Elfman provides an evocative score as well as several heart-stopping (pun intended) musical numbers that are enough to wake the …. well, they’re already awake in this movie, so no matter.
This product of the cheerfully dark corners of Tim Burton’s mind has its dark and creepy side but nothing that wouldn’t be suitable for all but the most impressible kids. If you’re at all a fan of the director’s other films, this title definitely belongs in your collection.