Shot at the same time as Charlie And The Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride was Tim Burton's first animated feature as director despite having tried his hand at stop-motion animation before with early short effort Vincent and, of course, The Nightmare Before Christmas, which he produced but didn't direct.
Like the title suggests, this one's both very wedding themed and death themed. The plot sees nervous Victor Van Dort (Johnny Depp) be forced into an arranged marriage with Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson) except everything goes wrong, or even more wrong, I suppose, when Victor mistakenly proposes to a corpse he mistook for a tree branch. The corpse in question, bony, maggot-infested Emily (Helena Bonham Carter) accepts the offer and soon drags poor Victor down to the land of the dead to meet her pals. To further complicate things, Victor had taken a shine to Victoria and sinister fellow Lord Barkis (Richard E. Grant) is trying to step in as her husband while Victor's down below with the dancing skeletons and the disembodied heads. This is basically a cross between an uptight Jane Austen-style family drama, a gothic musical fairy-tale and a light-hearted afterlife comedy. All of Burton's trademarks are there: the Depp/Bonham Carter pair-up, Christopher Lee, Danny Elfman penning the cool score and the songs, dead dogs and, of course, an overall charmingly macabre setting. The unique concept here being that the world of the living is a grey, lifeless, complicated place while the land of the dead is warm, colourful and fun. It's an inspired idea and Burton certainly makes the most of it.
The film has a creative, detailed gothic look and, although some of the characters' facial movements could have done with a little more flexibility, it's a beautiful animated film to look at. Corpse Bride frankly didn't need to be a musical and taking out all the songs would probably make the film flow much better but they're so likeable that it really would be a shame: Elfman himself sings a catchy jazzy tune that's hard to forget and the bride's quiet yet effective melody is undeniably pretty. Where the film fails to live up to The Nightmare Before Christmas is with its pun-heavy script which piles on the death wordplay so much that you end up seeing the gags coming a mile away. Also, the story could have done with a tad more polishing since some of the characters' motivations feel rather weak at times. Victor seems pretty unwilling to fight for the woman he claims to love, everyone falls for each other much too quickly and the villain doesn't even research his evil plan before putting it into motion! Plus, there are a few inconsistencies with the rules involving the dead and their relationship with the world above and everyone seems disturbingly cool with Victor committing suicide for someone he barely knows. Luckily, the film still has enough charm and appealing visuals to carry it through.
While not vintage Burton, Corpse Bride is still a worthy stop-motion detour with a fun cast, a style of animation that's rare these days and which deserves support and all the dark poetry you'd expect from one of the director's works. While it's no Nightmare Before Christmas, or even Frankenweenie, it remains an entertaining, good-looking, memorable little flick.
Flawed yet likeable.