Corpse Bride

Make no bones about it, this is a crappy tagline. Good film though.

Released in 2005, certified UK-PG. Reviewed on 02 Nov 2005 by Scott Morris
Corpse Bride image

Regardless of who actually directed The Nightmare Before Christmas (Henry Selick), the fact that's it's so often attributed to Tim Burton might be forgiven in light of the box art proudly proclaiming it to be Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas. Well, he did write it, which I suppose has to count for something. Anyways, now the man himself has a proper crack at the stop-motion dark fairy tale style of Nightmare in this tale of love gone, well, weird.

Bashful etymologist and heir to a fishmongery empire Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp. Who'd have figured on him showing up in a Tim Burton film?) is arranged to be married off to Victoria (Emily Watson) of the snooty, prestigious but now near-destitute Everglot family. Despite having never met before, the two seem to get on quite well apart from the small matter of the wedding rehearsal. A nervous Victor fluffs his vows one too many times and is dismissed to learn them. Choosing the creepy forest on the edge of town as an ideal rehearsal location, by methods perhaps best left unexamined he winds up married to the titular, charming, slightly decomposed corpse bride (voiced by Helena Bonham Carter. Who'd have figured on her showing up in a Tim Burton film?)

The underworld wasn't quite what Victor had in mind for his happily ever after, so while he tries to weasel his way back up to the surface away from a friendly cast of skeletons and zombies his prospective wife is in severe danger of being married off to caddish philanderer Barkis Bittern (Richard E. Grant). What's that? Hidden pasts? Dark secrets? Tying in with our Corpse Bride's tragic plight? Please sir, don't spoil it for the kiddies...

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If there's a moral to Corpse Bride 's story I'll be damned if I can find it, apart from the vague concept that murder is a bad thing (who knew?) so perhaps it might not qualify strictly as a fairy tale in some hypothetical pedant's eyes, but it's as close to a modern day addendum to the Brothers Grimm's canon as anything I've seen. Not sure what they'd make of the occasional musical number though. It's a well crafted outing all round, and there's much to like in this film regardless of your age category.

The obvious thing to strike you is the character design, gangly bodies and spindly arms being so prevalent it's tempting to believe Burton was traumatised as an infant by a daddy longlegs. Jesus, what a stupid name for an insect. Henceforth, I believe I shall refer to them as Death's Hand. Far better name. Anyway, where were we? Ah, character design. Um, yeah, it's great. I'd say how lovely it all looks, and how distinctive it's skeletons are, and how beautifully gothic the buildings are, but you probably already know that due to the pictures littered around the place, or the trailers, or the adverts. So I won't say any of it.

I don't really know what else to say about Corpse Bride. It's heart is clearly in the right place, which is more than can be said for some of the characters in Corpse Bride. There's certainly nothing complicated plotwise in here, but what you do get is a sharply written, punchy and funny script, good vocal performances and an abstract, fluid, effective animation style. If there's anything wrong with it, it's that there isn't enough of it. Much like it's stop motion compadre Wallace & Gromit proceedings are kept short and sweet, the technique not lending itself to epics, but there's a slight nagging sensation that we should be getting slightly more film for our entertainment dollarpound.

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As we're often told, quality is more important than quantity. By this maxim it's quite difficult to judge Corpse Bride as anything other than a success. It's obvious enough too keep the kids happy, clever enough too keep the adults happy and gothic enough to keep the mascara-laden teens of today happy.

I hereby declare this the best horror film of 2005 thus far, indeed the only good one. Any complaints about either the categorisation of this film or the offhanded (but entirely justified) dismissal of a genre's yearly output can be directed to the usual address.

Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 4/5 TippyMarks.

Tim Burton
Mike Johnson
Cast list:
Johnny Depp (Victor Van Dort)
Helena Bonham Carter (Corpse Bride)
Emily Watson (Victoria Everglot)
Tracey Ullman (Nell Van Dort/Hildegarde)
Paul Whitehouse (William Van Dort/Mayhew/Paul The Head Waiter)
Joanna Lumley (Maudeline Everglot)
Albert Finney (Finnis Everglot)
Richard E. Grant (Barkis Bittern)
Christopher Lee (Pastor Galswells)