Sunday, December 4, 2011

Corpse Bride

 Every so often there comes along a film that for what ever reason you failed to see on the big screen and regretted having done so. Tim Burton's 2005 stop-motion-animated feature Corpse Bride is one such film for me. I can't recall the reason why I missed this (but even worse )  last night was the first time I had ever watched it!! This is most unusual because I like Tim Burton's films, especially 1999's wonderful dark gothic styled Sleepy Hollow and I have a real soft spot for 1996's satirical Mars Attacks!.

 Now the type of animation Corpse Bride uses isn't for everyone and can be a somewhat acquired taste. Fortunately though it somehow perfectly fits Burton's vision of darkness, gloom, and quirkiness that are his hallmarks. In saying that stop-motion-animation is somehow more suited to tales of a darker nature than more traditional animation seems to be. For instance 2009's Coraline which was supposedly a children's feature, and yet in all reality was far from it. Even as an adult I found it unsettling and wondered how on earth anyone could consider it solely a children's film.

 As stated this type of animation isn't for all and yet on release Corpse Bride was both a financial and critical success grossing just shy of US$117.2 million worldwide. All of which reinforces an argument which I have been making for years in that animation is not the strict domain of children alone. Corpse Bride is proof of this because there is no way it is suitable for children and wasn't aimed at them at all. It is an adult orientated feature and judging by its commercial success was well received by its target audience. This fixation with animation being strictly a children's medium really annoys me because it just isn't. To be sure there are features that are aimed at children alone as this years ( both awful ) Yogi Bear and Hop show. But in all reality it is a medium for all. It is just once in a while that a film maker ( thankfully ) makes an animated feature for adults alone that reminds us of this.

 Corpse Bride went on to be nominated for a Best Animated Feature Oscar but was comprehensively beaten by Wallace & Gromit : The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. In fact Wallace & Gromit dominated that years animation awards claiming no less than 10 Oscars!! It is hard to dis-agree with the Academy's assessment of Wallace & Gromit over Corpse Bride because it was doing stop-motion-animation well before Burton's film. In the process it set the standard for this type of animation. But none the less just the fact it was nominated shows that Corpse Bride is a notable animated feature. In fact it was even nominated for the AFI's Top 100 animated features. Exclusive company to even be nominated for indeed!

 But what is all about?! Corpse Bride is a comedy/fantasy/horror/ musical all rolled into one. The story is set in an un-named Victorian era village somewhere in Europe. It revolves around the marriage of the son of merchants ( Victor voiced by Johnny Depp )  to the daughter ( Victoria, voiced by Emily Watson ) of cold snobby aristocrats who have lost their money .The marriage is intended to lift the social status of Victor's parents and restore the wealth of Victoria's. The young couple have never met but when they do fall in love at first sight. Unfortunately Victor's bumbling nervousness sees him unable to complete the wedding rehearsals and he flees into a nearby forest.

 Here the fun and games begin because unknowingly Victor, in practising the vows, places the ring on what he supposes is a dead branch, which in fact is the finger of a dead bride. Victor finally gets the vows right and lo and behold out of the ground pops his bride, Emily....a corpse ( voiced by Helen Bonham Carter ) Suffice to say she takes him off to the under world where he tries to explain his mistake and she tries to keep him. One thing leads to another in both worlds. With Victor's supposed elopement Victoria is married off to the sinister Lord Barkis Bittern who it turns out murdered Emily on the night of her marriage. On learning of Victoria's marriage Victor decides to marry Emily by drinking a potion that will stop his heart and make him dead like her.
 Suffice to say the story is a bitter-sweet one for just as Victor is to drink the potion the wedding is interrupted and Victoria turns up followed by Lord Barkis. The truth of his former marriage and murder of Emily is revealed and he inadvertently drinks Victor's potion and dies. Emily is set free and Victor and Victoria are free to marry. Overall the premise isn't overly original as bitter-sweet tales like this have been told for centuries. It reminded me of certain aspects of Romeo and Juliet in how mis-understandings led to a sad ending ( of which Corpse Bride almost ended as ). I believe though that Corpse Bride itself was loosely based on a tale from Jewish folklore.

 Corpse Bride is very much Tim Burton at his macabre best. The humour is typically black and yet it is a tale that is both bitter and sweet. What I personally liked about the whole feature was how Burton had the living in a virtually colourless drab world whereas the dead where in colour and in a more joyful, fun place. To be sure he is replicating the snobbery and evil of Victor and Victoria's parents ( along with that of Lord Barkis ) and their world, but I thought this a very clever touch. I really liked how the dead were all coloured blue just as a fresh corpse is! Again a great touch.

 My only criticism is that I didn't like the musical element. It is very much a feature of animation but I found myself unengaged by the singing in this even the humouress scenes during it were worth watching.

 This then is a simply stunning piece of adult animation. I really regret not having seen it on the big screen when it played here but that is the way it goes sometimes. But I have finally seen it. And even though on the small screen it is still impressive enough to dazzle and show why Tim Burton is the modern master of dark gloomy gothic driven macabre films. For me he, along with Quentin Tarantino, are the two leading film makers in the world today, simply because they are always ahead of the pack in the use of new and interesting film making techniques.

 IMDB has this with 7.4/10. I'm more inclined to give it at least 8.5/10 for being so well animated. The premise isn't overly original but the visuals are its main focus against which the plot is set. The voice cast is long and prestigious which adds to its overall quality as well. I mean can you complain at Joanna Lumley, Christopher Lee, Tracy Ullman and Albert Finney?!!!! It is hard to believe though that such a masterful animated work such as this was bettered that year by an English inventor with a smart dog and the tale of a were-rabbit!!

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  1. Brilliant review as always Brent.

    I am not a fan of the evil trio (Burton, Depp and Elfman) as I find their collaborations to be boring and stale but I would find it hard to fault this film.

    I have never been a fan of Danny Elfman but there is something about the score and songs that I just love!

  2. The evil trio!! I like that! But I can see why Burton's film don't appeal to all. I love Sleepy Hollow and yet have watched it with others who just didn't get its gothic darkness. Horses for courses isn't it?
    I like quirky and Burton brings the best out of Depp when it comes to quirky roles. Again though quirky isn't for all tastes.
    Funnily enough the only thing I didn't like about Corpse Bride was the score/songs. I'm not a muscial fan anyway so that was no surprise. Very rarely do songs in a film ever do anything for me!