Directed by: Mike Johnson & Tim Burton
Written by: John August, Caroline Thompson, Pamela Pettler
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Tracey Ullman, Paul Whitehouse
“Till death do us part” gets used often in wedding ceremonies, as it’s the one instance even the most stringent religions can agree morally severs a marriage. Never has it been used in a more creative sense than the wacky and whimsical world in Corpse Bride. An amalgamation of the dread surrounding death and how it may not be the worst thing to happen as the afterlife appears to be a blissful escape from the dreary living world.
Set for an arranged marriage to a prominent family, Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) gets nervous when he has to memorize his vows. While practicing his delivery, he places the ring on what appears to be a stick but ends up being a corpse who suddenly reanimates and agrees to marry Victor. Suddenly now in the afterlife, Victor must find a way to get back to his world to marry his betrothed.
Certainly a wacky concept, but one made with such tender care and compassion for the characters involved, Corpse Bride packs plenty to enjoy. It’s most jaw-dropping feature comes from the animation utilized. Combining Laika Entertainment and Tim Burton created wonderfully unique looking characters. The gothic aesthetic of the living world fits very much in what Burton likes to construct and it’s quite the marvel to appreciate. Exaggerated chins, noses, legs, and a bevy of other body parts gives each character a distinct appearance to stick out amongst the rest. Creating these stop-motion animated films takes care and compassion to effectively work and it shows in the final product.
For as strange as Victor’s predicament may be, a pure sweetness runs through this film and combats the dreary aesthetic around them. The arranged marriage set up the possibility of Victor and his betrothed, Victoria (Emily Watson) to not have any sort of connection, but the limited time they spend together indicates they would make a lovely pair. It shifts from uneasiness to something both of them willingly want to take on even if the initial decision remained out of their control. It makes the accidental marriage he has with the corpse bride, Emily (Helena Bonham Carter) all the more heartbreaking to watch. The sheer joy she displays when first interacting with Victor proves the eventual conversation he will need to have with her will be emotionally devastating. Nothing from Victor comes from a place of malice, as he’s rather meek as a person, but it comes in the effort of wanting to marry someone who still lives and he can see falling in love with.
The creation of the afterlife in this film makes the case that it would be better to just go straight down there, seeing as the living world has such a bleak and dour mood, while more warmth and friendliness gets found after one perishes. Everyone down there has fun with their circumstance and they even have a bar. Going topside would certainly kill the buzz, but Victor still wants to head back up, because of his budding love for Victoria.
Much of the comedy this film provides does not arrive through jokes made by the characters, but rather the revelation of the hypocrisy of some of the characters. Mostly, with the parents of both Victor and Victoria. Seeing as they arranged it, their main purpose remains to advance their family in some sort of way. Victor’s parents represent new money, as their business in working with fish has paid off incredibly well. Victoria’s folks live a bougie old money lifestyle but have no money left from what they inherited. It would come as a huge surprise if they also worked for any distinguishable amount of time. Victor’s parents seek to marry into a big and respected name while Victoria’s parents want to get some of the large sums the former could provide through inheritance. With the lack of love from the parents, having it grow organically between Victor and Victoria makes it much more meaningful.
Beautifully made, incredibly sweet, and funny, The Corpse Bride has fun with the technicalities of wedding vows and what occurs when it crosses from love to obligation. In certain moments, the film showed not to have a thoroughly cohesive story with some of the narrative moments not making much sense in the context of why certain events transpire. Its faults become easy to look over when overall it demonstrates a loving quality pushing against the gothic aesthetic in their world and trying to carve out something special for them.