Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride


Johnny Depp as Victor Van Dort
Helena Bonham Carter as The Corpse Bride
Emily Watson as Victoria Everglot
Tracey Ullman as Nell Van Dort/Hildegarde
Paul Whitehouse as William Van Dort/Mayhew/Paul the Head Waiter
Joanna Lumley as Maudeline Everglot
Albert Finney as Finnis Everglot
Richard E. Grant as Barkis Bittern
Christopher Lee as Pastor Galswells
Michael Gough as Elder Gutknecht
Jane Horrocks as Black Widow Spider/Mrs. Plum
Enn Reitel as Maggot/Town Crier
Deep Roy as General Bonesapart
Danny Elfman as Bonejangles
Stephen Ballantyne as Emil

Young Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) must marry aristocratic Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson) in a typically Victorian arranged marriage designed to save the Everglot’s reputation and grant the Van Dort’s entrance into the nobility. Of course, no one has bothered to ask the soon-to-be newlyweds what they want, naturally giving Victor and Victoria some butterflies. One night, following a disastrous wedding rehearsal, Victor practices his vows in a dark wood and to his surprise and horror finds himself accidentally married to poor, dead Emily (Helena Bonham Carter) – the Corpse Bride.

With a lot of Dickens and a touch of The Brother’s Grimm, “Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride” is very much a fairy tale – clever and witty and melancholy – and generally immensely entertaining.

Of the many directors working today, Tim Burton by far gets the idea of the fairy tale the best. Whimsy is one of the trickiest things to capture on film. It requires a light touch and a complete un-blinking belief in what is going onto the screen. History is filled with the failed fairy tale attempts by competent and even great directors; but the problems that stymie others play to Burton’s strength, and “The Corpse Bride” sees him at the top of his game.

The unique look of stop-motion animation, long one of his preferred art forms, seems tailor made for his particular artistic vision, and the strange beauty of “The Corpse Bride” is proof of that and reason enough to go see it. The bleakly Dickensian world of the living in particular is equal turns haunting and stunning, with some truly exceptional composition and a studied uses of grays. The land of the dead, in contrast, is the world of vibrant color. The dead are more lively and more alive than their poor, repressed living counterparts. It’s no surprise when Victor starts to think about staying with them.

That liveliness is, in fact, one of the few downsides of the film. It is often a bit jarring from the darker tone of the rest of the film. It is filled with broad humor and song and dance routines and doesn’t seem to fit with the fairy tale feel Burton and co-director Mike Johnson go for the rest of the time. It’s during these moments that “The Corpse Bride” seems more like a standard family oriented animated film, and less like the unique creation it is. The scenes by themselves are actually quite good, but juxtaposed with the rest of the film – particularly the dire straights Victoria finds herself in when the cruel Lord Barkis (Richard E. Grant) comes courting – it doesn’t always seem to fit.

The voice acting, filled with a large number of Burton company players, is as superb as the animation, particularly Watson and Bonham Carter as the two women in Victor’s life. Despite the strangeness of the situation, they make it quite clear that either one of them could be the woman for him, and the pathos of the drama draws the watcher in better than song and dance number could.

The songs themselves are a little underwhelming, but that could be because it is often quite difficult to make out the lyrics. It’s not one of composer Elfman’s better works (he already did better this year on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”), re-using many thematic pieces from his other film scores including a few very recognizable notes from Spider-Man, but it serves just fine. Above all else “The Corpse Bride” is a feast for the eyes with some truly stunning animation.

All told, “The Corpse Bride” is a near perfect fairy tale. It may be a bit too melancholy to find a real family audience, but for an adult who hasn’t quite given up on happily ever afters and strange goings on in the dark woods, it’s just the ticket.

“Tim Burton’s The Corpse Bride” is rated PG for some scary images and action, and brief mild language.