Corpse Bride is a film written and directed by Tim Burton released in 2005. It’s entirely shot in stop motion (Burton started playing with this technique since he was a kid), which means that it’s a sequence of photos of small puppets (in this case almost 30 centimeters tall) whose positions and facial expressions are changed slightly in each photo to give the illusion of movement. More than 190 thousand photos were needed to make this one-and-a-half hour movie! In Corpse Bride this technique has been used superbly and it seems incredible that it’s not done via computer animation.
Corpse Bride can be included in an ideal trilogy of the family together with Big Fish (2003) and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). This coincides more or less with the separation of Tim Burton from Lisa Marie and the beginning of his story with Helena Bonham Carter. In fact, this episode of his life seems to be featured in the plot of Corpse Bride, which, however, has its origin in a Russian fairy tale.
Let me briefly summarize the plot. Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp) is the only son of a couple of wealthy fish merchants, and Victoria (Emily Watson) is the only daughter of a declining and penniless noble family. The two families combine a marriage between the two who theoretically would have preferred to marry for love but, surprisingly, when they meet each other it’s love at first sight! That’s it, right? No, not really… Even if happiness is at hand, due to Victor’s awkwardness in front of the disturbing priest with the voice of Christopher Lee, everything goes awry… Especially when, by mistake, Victor marries Emily (Helena Bonham Carter), a bride killed by her husband some time before!
And here I stop because I don’t want to spoil the vision to those who haven’t seen the film yet. In any case, if you haven’t seen it please do so and then come back here, because I’m sure that some spoiler will escape me later!
Corpse Bride is pure poetry. I saw it at the cinema when it came out and I liked it a lot, but when I saw it again on DVD I liked it even more! Not only is it technically flawless, with the incredibly fluid movements of the characters, with a wonderful voice acting and with some splendid music signed by the usual Danny Elfman (who also lends his voice to a singing skeleton), but the story is exciting and there are numerous scenes that will leave you speechless. Each character, and there are dozens of them, is unique in form, movements, and expressions. And there is a logic behind every choice, behind every physical characteristic, characteristics that are deliberately extremely accentuated and caricatural.
The construction of the world alone is worth the vision. The world of the living is gray, dull, governed by greed, devoid of all joy and emotion except for music, which is not by chance what makes Victor and Victoria fall in love. The world of the dead, on the other hand, is colorful, lively, and populated by cheerful corpses that celebrate at every opportunity, for example when someone dies. Think of the good Mayhew (Paul Whitehouse): he explicitly says that he feels better dead, better than he had never felt when he was alive!
Every frame is like a painting, every song deserves to be listened to, every puppet is a masterpiece. Burton had fun making this movie and it shows, he gave free rein to his imagination and brought it to the screen, as opposed to his more recent works in which it is hard to recognize his touch (I’m thinking about movies like Big Eyes, 2014 , and Dumbo, 2019, for example).
And there’s even a happy ending! The movie starts with Victor freeing a butterfly in his studio after having drawn it, and when he finally manages to free Emily, she turns into butterflies and flies away, no longer chained by the false promise of love of the man who had deceived her. Although a more melancholy interpretation is also possible: the butterfly could be Victor’s dream and, when he manages to marry Victoria, the dream disappears together with Emily. Pick the version that you prefer!
In any case, this is a must-see film, it’s certainly among the best by Tim Burton post-Nineties and among the best animated films of all time (can we define the stop motion as animation?)! Ciao!