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I Bet You Didn’t See… Corpse Bride

Updated: Jan 13

Directed by: Mike Johnson, Tim Burton

Screenplay by: John August, Caroline Thompson, Pamela Pettler

Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson

Released: September 7th, 2005

My Rating: 7/10

Contains Spoilers!!!

Since Tim Burton brought out The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), the creation of stop-motion has been quite a popular style. Aardman Animations brought the style back into the public conscious with Wallace and Gromit, while Ray Harryhausen is the icon we all know. With Wallace and Gromit, we had the charm of being able to spot fingerprints on the model, while Corpse Bride (at the time) saw the technique at its peak. It was the third film the style produced by Burton, after The Nightmare Before Christmas and James and the Giant Peach (1996).

A fight, as it was staged on set

The story follows Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp), a wealthy fish merchant’s son, is arranged to be married to Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson), the daughter of a local aristocratic family who are very down on their luck and now poor. Victor gets tongue-tied at the wedding rehearsal and is thrown out by the Priest (Christopher Lee), telling Victor to learn his vows. After a successful practice in an overgrown graveyard, Victor is unexpected married to a corpse, Emily (Helena Bonham Carter) and taken into the underworld. From here, Victor’s journey is a twist of getting back to Victoria, heartbreak, celebrity parodies, and terribly funny jokes that only the dead can pull off!

Bonejangles (Elfman)

The reason the Corpse Bride managed to step the stop-motion technique forward is that the models were fitted with motors and gears, so movements were a bit smoother, and it didn’t have the length as time as most other solely stop-motion films. The film took 52 weeks to shoot, with about two minutes of footage shot per week. The Nightmare Before Christmas took three years to make in the older style. The team also used digital cameras and editing software to produce the film, which was a world-first.

It is a musical film, with four main songs, the best of which is the second one in the film. This explains the backstory to the film to Victor in a jazz track, “Remains of the Day”, sung by a skeleton called Bonejangles and voiced by the brilliantly talented Danny Elfman. We also see General Bonesapart, parodying Napoleon Bonaparte, a British soldier who looks suspiciously like the Duke of Wellington and a green maggot whose voice is an impression of Peter Lorre.

A nod to Ray.

Throughout the film, there are plenty of play-on-words and jokes that should be expected in a film with dead people and skeletons. I won’t give them all away but a predictable appearance of a ‘second hand shoppe’ made for a pleasing chuckle. There is also a nod to Ray Harryhausen, with the Everglot’s family piano being named after him, as seen in this short clip at 1:19, and in the nearby image.

As with most Tim Burton works, there a plenty of dark motifs and twisted ideas but ultimately it is a great little family piece that suits Halloween down to a tee. I love to use of colour, making the world of the living in almost black and white and putting the land of the dead in colour and having it the lively place. It almost speaks ‘stereotype’ in that respect.

Corpse Bride is a very charming, entertaining piece that everyone can enjoy. Its particularly amusing how they joke about the dead still having the sensations and needs of the living, i.e. breathing, drinking, skeletons getting drunk and objecting to playing ‘dead’! It’s fun for everyone and always on my household’s ‘Halloween Movies’ list.

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