I’m just going to gush for a few hundred words today. I hope you don’t mind.
Just delightful in every way
A young man named Victor is betrothed by his parents to a woman he’s never met before. At their rehearsal he runs out in a panic and, while practicing his vows, accidentally places the ring on the skeletal finger of Emily, the Corpse Bride. Believing themselves to now be married, Emily takes Victor to the land of the dead. Will Victor make it back to the land of the living? Will true love win out? And who is the mysterious Lord Barkis…?
I am overjoyed to announce that Bad Movie Week officially ended at 9:05 this morning, that being the moment I hit Play on the DVD of Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride. A mere 74 minutes later I was in my happy place and I stayed there most of the day. I should say at this point that I am not a huge fan of Tim Burton’s output over the last dozen years or so. I feel that he has disappeared up his own fundament with his most recent flicks (although the trailers for Dark Shadows seem promising) and forgotten what made his earlier films so special. Luckily for me, that is not an issue here. Corpse Bride is simply marvellous. Is it telling however, that, despite his name being part of the official title, my new favourite Tim Burton flick is one that he probably didn’t have that much direct control over?
The stop-motion animation created by the geniuses (genii?) at Laika is a massive part of what makes this flick so good. The puppets are almost inhumanly stylised but they are gorgeous. It’s also kinda nice to see Johnny Depp reined in a bit as the voice of the shy Everyman that weird stuff keeps happening to, instead of the deliberately kooky source of the weirdness. Helena Bonham Carter brings life to the dead Emily, and you just can’t help but fall at least a little bit in love with her. Emily Watson plays Victoria, Victor’s fiancée, who is just as sweet and lovely as Emily, but doesn’t get as much time to make a big impression. Amongst the rest of the cast, two standouts were Christopher Lee lending his regal tones to the village pastor and Michael Gough (who, as Alfred, was the only connective tissue from Burton’s Batman right through to Schumacher’s Batman and Robin), here playing Lee’s underworld counterpart, the rather more decent and kind Elder Gottnicht.
If this movie reminded me of any other, visually and tonally, it would be the opening sequence of my previous favourite Burton film: Batman Returns. You know, the bit showing the birth and abandonment of Oswald Cobblepot, the soon-to-be Penguin. These two films are for me where Burton’s gothic sensibilities were married to stories that were thematically strong enough to not seem like self-parodies. In Corpse Bride, the themes are nothing new but they are brought out of the script (by John August, Caroline Thompson and Pamela Pettler) with such grace and exuberance that they seem fresh again.
I think this movie may also be Danny Elfman’s finest hour too. Not just with the score which is a delight, but the songs as well. The two highlights are the opening number According To Plan – sung by Albert Finney, Joanna Lumley, Tracy Ullman and Paul Whitehouse as Victor and Victoria’s parents – and the Cab Callowayesque Remains Of The Day, performed by Elfman himself in the guise of Bonejangles the jazz-singing skeleton. I defy you not to be tapping your feet along to this tune. Go on, try. You can’t avoid it.
I really can’t say enough good things about this film, but the clock is racing ever onwards. I realise I’m probably a bit late to the party on this but if you haven’t seen it before either, you really should. And if you don’t have a bit of dust in your eye by the climax then you are even more dead than Emily.