Morbid yet delightful, ‘Corpse Bride’ breathes success

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Corpse Bride” is Tim Burton’s long-awaited stop motion follow-up to the brilliant “A Nightmare Before Christmas.” This time, he does not just come up with the story and characters. He directs as well, with Mike Johnson as co-director.

Presenting subjects that are typically dark and frightening and showing them in a positive light has long been a trademark of Tim Burton. In “Corpse Bride,” Burton spins death and murder into a charming musical about the power of love.

“Corpse Bride” is supposedly based on actual events that occurred in 19th century Russia, at a time when anti-Semitism was widespread in Eastern Europe. Very often, bands of anti-Semites would waylay a Jewish wedding party on their way to the wedding. And because the bride would be the one to bear future generations, she would be ripped out of the carriage, murdered, and buried in her wedding gown. Burton uses this tale as a backdrop for his story, and moves the setting from Russia to England.

The plot concerns Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp,) who is engaged to be married to Victoria (Emily Watson.) The two have never met, except in the title of a Blake Edwards comedy, but when they’re finally introduced, they are surprised to find that, despite everything, they love each other.

During the wedding rehearsal, shy Victor cannot remember his vows. While practicing in the forest, he mistakenly places the ring on the finger of Emily, a murdered woman (Helena Bonham Carter,) is immediately married to her, and taken to the underworld to live as her husband.

While Victor searches for a way out of the underworld and back to Victoria, he learns of the devious plot of how Emily was murdered and experiences the beauty and charm that still resides in her. Victor must decide whom he loves more: his bride-to-be or his corpse bride.

Tim Burton is one of my favorite directors, and, in my opinion, a visual genius, so I had very high expectations for “Corpse Bride.” I have to say, I was not disappointed one bit. “Corpse Bride” is a beautiful, charming, fun-filled and suspenseful musical-comic mystery.

The stop motion animation used in “Corpse Bride” advanced significantly in the twelve years Burton took developing the film. The movements and facial expressions are more fluid and lifelike than anything we have previously seen. Reportedly, the crew was able to build stainless steel armatures covered with silicon skin, into expressive puppets.

In “A Nightmare Before Christmas,” they had to change the heads of the puppets each time, to reflect a new expression. All of these advances help to make the figures move as though they were hand or computer-animated. Technically, this film is a stunning achievement. Shot entirely with commercial digital still photography cameras instead of film cameras – each frame is a work of art. The look and lighting of the film, from the character designs down to the detailed environments, are exceptional.

The world of the living is a drab and overcast place with much of the color drained from it, with static shots comfortable in an old Universal horror film. The world of the dead is more expressive. It is livelier, cheerier and with brighter colors.

While morbid even by Burton’s standards, the material ultimately could not be more good-natured or benign. Even when the dead stage a literal uprising in the third act, it only reinforces the notion that death itself is not the true enemy – a Burton theme that dates all the way back to 1988’s “Beetlejuice,” to which “Corpse Bride” draws countless other graphic and thematic references.

“Corpse Bride” is Tim Burton’s second film of 2005. His previous film, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” was a whimsical delight, and “Corpse Bride” is no exception. It is an inventive and delightful movie that ranks with Burton’s best film achievements. However, I can’t see it having the playability with the younger set the way Nightmare Before Christmas does, based on its subject matter and grotesque images.

Critics have been very kind to the film upon release, and it definitely deserves its accolades. I absolutely loved the Corpse Bride and feel it is worthy of applause. This is one of the best films to come out in years.

Sahag Gureghian can be reached at ane@sundial.csun.edu.