Corpse Bride

Corpse BrideSynopsis: Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride carries on in the dark, romantic tradition of his classic Edward Scissorhands and Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Set in a 19th century European village, this stop-motion, animated feature follows the story of Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp), a young man who is whisked away to the underworld and wed to a mysterious Corpse Bride, while his real bride, Victoria, waits bereft in the land of the living. Though life in the Land of the Dead proves to be a lot more colorful than his strict Victorian upbringing, Victor learns that there is nothing in this world, or the next, that can keep him away from his one true love. It’s a tale of optimism, romance and a very lively afterlife, told in classic Burton style.

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Corpse Bride 8.0

eyelights: the gorgeous look of the film. the character designs. the detailed sets.
eyesores: the facile ways that Victor and Emily made difficult choices.

“Dearly beloved… and departed…”

It may surprise some people, but ‘Corpse Bride’ was Tim Burton’s first stop-motion animated film. Although his name was tacked on to ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas‘ (as co-writer and co-producer) and even ‘James and the Giant Peach’ (as a producer), he actually hadn’t directed either one.

While ‘Corpse Bride’ will never rival ‘Nightmare…’ in popularity or match its ground-breaking technical proficiency, it’s also a more accessible work. Case-in-point, the respect the masses had for ‘Nightmare…’ grew over time, after a respectable first run, but ‘Corpse’ was a hit right out of the box.

Er… casket.

Ironically enough, it’s also less memorable. Although I enjoyed it without any effort (unlike ‘Nightmare’, whose songs grated on me from start to finish and that I had to learn to love), I also tend to forget how much I’ve enjoyed it soon thereafter. In fact, if not for the quick notes I wrote after watching it, I’d now be dismissive of it.

Perhaps it’s because a lot of it seems familiar somehow. Thus, by failing to distinguish itself, ‘Corpse Bride’ is soon forgotten amidst a flurry of similar stories and concepts.

Admittedly, the visuals are a rare-ish treat: aside from Burton’s work, the  character designs and visual splendour of the piece is to be found nowhere else – this is truly an area that he’s mastered and few others dare traipse through. But it remains that he’s done this before, in many of his other works.

It doesn’t change the fact that this is a phenomenal-looking film, with the utmost attention given to the finer details – from the character designs, to the sets, to the décor, it’s all superb. In particular, especially after watching ‘Frankenweenie (2012)‘, I adored the fluidity of the movements, which looked near-natural.

It’s the script that suffers the most. While it’s a decently-written piece, it’s also relatively flavourless: it’s a love story taking place in Victorian times, between Victor and Victoria (haha). The only real twist is that Victor accidentally catches the eye of a corpse, who believes that his vows were meant for her.

It’s all meant in fun, and it is. While there’s a certain morbidity to it, it’s not particularly scary or disturbing – no more than ‘The Addams Family‘ would be, for instance, and likely less so. But it’s also not especially funny. There are a few good one-liners, but they’re largely forgettable. Thankfully, they’re also not regrettable.

There are lot of little funny bits interspersed throughout, but most of them (at least for me), related to the comments being made about the social conventions of the time.

I enjoyed that the filmmakers decided to make statements about the value of marriage and the role of romance in relationships. I don’t think that they were preaching nor were they necessarily mocking traditions, but they did ask a lot of questions, leaving the answers up to audiences to figure out for themselves.

That, in and of itself, is what was the appeal of the picture; there was more to it than mere eye-candy and cheap entertainment. By bringing up important questions such as personal happiness versus familial responsibility and social climbing in the context of an truly alternative love story, it stands out.

And it bring about a few chuckles.

The voice acting was actually quite good. I was rather impressed with Johnny Depp’s characterization of Victor, whom he imbued with a nervousness not uncommon for the age and type. It’s not entirely new to Depp, who took it one step further in ‘Sleepy Hollow’, but it was well done. The rest of the cast was excellent, if unmemorable.

Thankfully, ‘Corpse Bride’ features only four songs from start to finish – which isn’t bad at all for a musical. Some of them were even effortlessly enjoyable, in particular the one featuring Mr. Bonejangles; I liked how they managed to recount a story in this rollicking, infectious song without making it too poppy or overly arranged.

If I have one gripe in this whole morbid tale, it’s that it takes the easy route in telling the story of Victor, Victoria and Emily, our “corpse bride’.

*MAJOR spoilers alert*

There are two moments that really bothered me:

  • At one point, Victor decides to wed Emily, even though he is in love with Victoria. The logic behind this was that he thinks he’s lost his chance with Victoria. However, in order to wed Emily, he needs to die – thus he must say his vows and drink poison. He agrees. I can’t even fathom why anyone would do this, even if mentally ill. So this turn of events seems like a lazy way to add a twist and some tension to the proceedings.
  • Emily eventually decides that she wouldn’t want to do to Victoria what had been done to her, which is to deny her wedded bliss. So she decides to just let Victor go without making a fuss – and with very little thought put into it. It’s simple: just do the right thing. Le sigh…

The thing is that, in both cases, I don’t disagree with their choice – I disagree with the lack of thought being invested by the characters in making such challenging choices.

You’d think that Victor would think once or twice about drinking poison before agreeing to it, and I’m sure Emily, who’s about to cede her chance at happiness, would mull it over, maybe even brood a bit before doing it.

Alas, that is not so: in Burton’s world, life (and death) is really easy-peasy.

On that basis, I decided to give the picture an 8.0 instead of an 8.25 – which is what I was aiming for until I got to this point in the picture.

*MAJOR spoilers alert*

But, beyond that, ‘Corpse Bride’ is an amusing tale that is told with just enough vivacity that it is a breeze to watch. It’s a well-conceived and well-made film that will no doubt delight animation and Tim Burton fans alike. It may feel like it’s all been done before, however, so it likely won’t impress as much as it would have a decade prior, before Burton became common currency in Hollywood.

Story: 7.5
Acting: 7.5
Production: 9.0

Chills: 3.0
Gore: 3.0
Violence: 2.0

Date of viewing:  September 30, 2013

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