The Animation Corner: “The Corpse Bride”

BY BENJAMIN K. PAPLHAM

Author’s Note: This section is dedicated to calling attention to lesser known animated movies and television. If somebody has a suggestion for me to review or discuss, please feel free to email me and I will see what I can do!

Rating: 4/5

If you like Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” then you’ll like “The Corpse Bride.” And that’s pretty much the best review anybody can give. My work here is done.

…But I suppose that wouldn’t be quite fair. Who’s to say that just because I like one I’ll like the other? Well, if you’re a fan of singing skeletons and puns about dismemberment, then you’ll be more than entertained.

Burton is a master of gothic storytelling, and he delivers once again with “Corpse Bride.” Set in Victorian times, this stop-motion fairy tale tells the story of Victor Van Dort (voiced by Johnny Depp: “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Sweeney Todd”) and his arranged marriage with Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson: “The Book Thief”). But things go down (literally) quickly, when Victor practices his wedding vows in the forest and accidentally becomes married to Emily (Helena Bonham Carter: “Harry Potter”, “The King’s Speech”), a dead bride from the Land of the Dead. What follows next is a series of amusing Victorian satire and parody on dark romantic comedies, as Victor tries to find his way back home.

The best and worst thing about “Corpse Bride” is its comparison to “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” While they do have opposite plots—the former about the living going below to the dead and the latter about the dead going above to the living—Tim Burton’s style is distinctively stamped on each. What “Corpse Bride” has in its favor is 12 years of advancement in stop-motion technology. The animation is quite fluid and, for the most part, devoid of distracting choppiness. Expansive and varied camera angles also give it a feeling of being an actual movie, whereas the cinematography in “Nightmare” often feels stage-like and compacted.

I also enjoy the witty, ironic dialogue of “Corpse Bride,” with lines like Victor’s: “This just can’t work. We’re just too different. I mean…you’re dead.” However, I do understand the appeal of the dark (and often unnerving) physical humor of “Nightmare,” especially with the spiderlike movements of Jack Skellington.

Another comparison is certain to arise between the two movies’ soundtracks. Burton’s favorite partner in crime, Danny Elfman, composes both, and the whimsical style is evident in each as well. It is hard to justify comparing the music of “Corpse Bride” with that of “Nightmare”—it’s difficult to top “This is Halloween” or “What’s This?”—but “Corpse Bride” holds its own well enough. None of the songs are particularly memorable, but they tie the plot along nicely and aren’t as central to the film as they are in “Nightmare.” Probably the most crucial is the somber song, “Tears to Shed,” which provides significant character development and audience sympathy for Emily.

Speaking of character development, I also felt more attached to the characters in “Corpse Bride” than those in “Nightmare.” With “Nightmare,” the movie is focused more on the spectacle and design of the characters rather than a complete arch. In only a short 80 minutes, “Corpse Bride” utilizes humor and affectionate moments to bring the audience closer to Victor, Victoria and Emily. The most heartfelt and symbolic of instances is each time Victor plays the piano, once with Victoria and once with Emily.

So this Halloween, if you’re looking for an alternative holiday movie besides good ol’ Jack and Sally, try starting a new tradition with “The Corpse Bride”.

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