Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride (2005)
Dir: Tim Burton & Mike Johnson
What is it with Tim Burton and stop-motion undead dogs?
So, you remember ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ with its being written and completely produced and designed by Tim Burton, but directed by someone else?… Well this time he made what really must be seen as somewhat of a companion piece, and taken a share of the directing duties too.
For anyone who didn’t know that Burton was behind this, but had seen ‘Nightmare’ it is instantly obvious that they come from the same mind. I watched this on a family movies channel with it being fully intended for watching by children, and you’re quickly struck by just what a dark and twisted storyline there is.
Young man Victor (Johnny Depp of course) is betrothed to wed young aristocrat Victoria (Emily Watson) in a match devised by their parents to be mutually beneficial, helping his parents to rise above their social station, and mask the fact that hers have lost all their apparent wealth. However the two meet for the first time on the eve of their wedding and discover that they’re surprisingly compatible and that despite the circumstances of their arranged marriage they are happy with the match. Victor however struggles with the rehearsal, and goes off alone to practice his vows in the most Burtonic of places, a graveyard. There he accidentally recites the nuptials to a corpse and puts the ring on her skeletal finger, causing her to arise from the grave thrilled at her new living husband and drawing him into her world of the deceased.
It’s a narrative that could work perfectly well as a mature horror film, drawing on some quite common themes seen in classic Hammer horrors, but Burton has worked it as a family film, softening some elements a little (though still very creepy in places) and beautifully animating it in a very similar style to ‘Nightmare’ complete with songs (again by Danny Elfman) and lovely little quirky moments.
One of the clever things I noticed throughout was how the world of the living is almost essentially monochromatic, somewhere between black-and-white and sepia but with a cold blue hue and mere hints of muted colours, whereas the ‘underworld’ and the animated dead are far more colourful. This technique serves multiple purposes, visually demonstrating the dull and depressing realities of Victor and Victoria’s lives in comparison with the surprisingly vibrant world of the dead, and also then helping to soften in some ways the dark element and make those characters less sinister and more relatable, especially for children.
I don’t think it’s quite as charming as ‘Nightmare’ was, but it really works well alongside that film, and now with last years ‘Frankenweenie’ as Tim Burton’s trilogy (so far) of beautiful stop-motion animations for younger audiences, but still full of his style and themes.