I really admire the art of stop animation. The dedication it takes to move puppets and set pieces in painstakingly small increments and capturing every single image to create the illusion of fluid movement is more than I could ever hope to possess. The very tedium of such a job would surely drive me out of my mind and yet Hollywood has given us a number of feature films that use this art form to achieve breathtaking results. With enough resources and a lot of patience, stop form animation seems to be a perfect match for the whimsically macabre vision of Tim Burton and back in 1993 he indeed graced us with the magnificent The Nightmare Before Christmas and that film found its way into the hearts of moviegoers all over the world. Over a decade later Burton and his team would work on another movie that employs stop motion animation. That would of course be The Corpse Bride and while the mainstream audience seems to prefer Burton’s earlier film, I feel that this one is rather underappreciated as a technical marvel.
And please do not take my words as an implication that The Corpse Bride is a bad movie. It’s great! However, in my discussions with other movie buffs and film students, The Nightmare Before Christmas seems to have stayed in the public memory. Maybe that is due to the marketing but if you love animation, Tim Burton’s vision or simply offbeat stories, The Corpse Bride is definitely worth a look.
The story begins as two families – the Van Dorts and the Elderglots – prepare for the arranged marriage of their offspring, Victor and Victoria, respectively. This is a calculated marriage designed solely for the benefit of the parents. The Van Dorts crave social status which the Elderglots have. At the same time, the Elderglot family fortune has dwindled and they desperately need to join another clan which has money. Poor Victor (Johnny Depp) and Victoria meet for the first time right before the wedding rehearsal.
As it happens, Victor is quite a klutz and nearly sets his mother-in-law’s dress on fire during the rehearsal. The pastor orders Victor to leave and practice his wedding vows which he does. He goes to a forest outside of town and inadvertently performs his vows over the grave of a deceased woman named Emily who mistakenly believes he intends to marry her. Emily takes her new husband to the world of the dead where a raucous pub performance explains her tragic tale. It seems that Emily was once betrothed to a man who convinced her to take her family fortune and wait for him in the forest so the two could elope. He betrayed her and took the treasures for himself after burying her body in the forest. Poor Emily is bound until true love sets her free. At the same time, a mysterious and manipulative lord mistakenly believes that the Eldergot family is still wealthy and positions himself to marry Victoria in Victor’s place. And his plans do not involve a long and happy life for Victoria…
If you have not yet seen The Corpse Bride, you might think that the plot of the film centers on a love triangle between Victor, Victoria and Emily – and you would not be wrong. However, a lesser movie would have portrayed Victoria as unlikable and not a good match for Victor. The filmmakers took a different approach here. Victoria is actually quite likable and shows that she can be quite proactive in a bad situation. It is quite a tough situation for the young groom.
Meanwhile, Emily is actually the character who undergoes the most development. Her life was taken from her before she had a chance to fully live it and she is filled with regret. The themes for this movie center heavily on the sacrifices one makes in the name of love which was also explored a year before in Shrek 2.
I find that much of the charm with The Corpse Bride is in the loving attention paid to the details. In the past studios would swap multiple heads on puppet bodies in order to cheaply create multiple characters but such is not the case here. These puppets are among the most intricately designed for film and the range of facial expressions shown is beyond anything we have ever seen before. It is a tragedy that we will probably never see a film exclusively use such intricate stop motion models ever again as CGI techniques are far more affordable. Emily’s design in particular is absolutely stunning. She is appropriately creepy and gothic while intriguingly beautiful at the same time.
The Corpse Bride is a fun movie to watch during Halloween – especially for the family. Young children may find some of the undead to be frightening. The plot is nuanced enough that adults will still enjoy it when watching with their children.
If you have not yet seen The Corpse Bride, you absolutely should consider adding it to your watch list. We won’t get many (if any at all) films utilizing this type of animation from here on out.