Prayer Focus
Movie Review

Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride

MPAA Rating: PG for some scary images and action, and brief mild language

Reviewed by: Douglas Downs

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Clay Animation Action Adventure Comedy Kids Family
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Featuring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Albert Finney, Richard E. Grant
Director: Mike Johnson, Tim Burton
Producer: Tim Burton, Laurie Parker
Distributor: Warner Brothers
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Rising to the occasion / There’s been a grave misunderstanding.

Here’s what the distributor says about their film: “Set in a 19th century European village, this stop-motion, animated feature follows the story of Victor, a young man who is whisked away to the underworld and wed to a mysterious Corpse Bride, while his real bride, Victoria, waits bereft in the land of the living. Although life in the Land of the Dead proves to be a lot more colorful than his strict Victorian upbringing, Victor learns that there is nothing in this world, or the next, that can keep him away from his one true love.”

Tim Burton has always been known as a very innovative Director. His films certainly have a style all their own. “Corpse Bride” is no exception. The puppets that he used were made from stainless steel armatures covered with silicon skin. This was also the first stop-motion feature to use the new Apple Final Cut Pro during the editing process. This was also the first feature to be made with commercial digital still photography cameras (Canon SLR cameras with Nikon lenses) instead of film cameras.

The detail in this movie is so refined that it took animators 28 separate shots just to make the bride blink. Mr. Burton used a 55-week shoot, during which 109,000,440 frames had to be set up and filmed. He even used routines from a 1929 film called “Skeleton Dance” to create his own skeletal performance.

I once heard an actor make the passing comment “We all let Tim make movies, because it would be scary to see what he would do other wise.” Yes, his genius is a bit unusual, but the results are always visually stunning. The “Corpse Bride” contains and interesting tongue-in-cheek feel for the confrontation between the living and the very lively dead. This is not one of those ghoulish zombie horror flics. “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride” is whimsical and romantic—although half its characters are the rotting dead—and it has a wacky sensibility to boot.

The headwaiter at an Underworld restaurant really is just a head. A skeleton chorus line does high kicks. And the Corpse Bride of the title is forever dropping a hand, an arm or a leg bone. No wonder the Second-Hand Shoppe sells—you guessed it!—hands.It’s all accomplished with stop-motion puppets, which Burton used so effectively in 1993’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, a film he co-wrote with Caroline Thompson and produced, but did not direct.

This time Burton co-directed (with Mike Johnson) at the same time he was filming his hit Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, taking along that film’s star, Johnny Depp, as the hapless hero who accidentally wins the heart of a dead woman on the day before he is to be married to someone else. “Corpse Bride” was written by Nightmare’s Thompson, plus John August and Pamela Pettler. The music is alright and they do help to advance the plot. Yes, “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” fans.Danny Elfman composed the music for this movie too.

The “Corpse Bride” certainly resurrects the spirit of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (though with an even better look because the jerky stop-motion movements of the characters, in which the camera is stopped and the figures rearranged, have been smoothed out digitally).

It also has the eerily goofy tone of The Nightmare Before Christmas, which revolves around Jack Skellington, the long dead skeletal hero of Halloweentown, who accidentally discovers Christmastown and decides to bring all its merriment home by taking over the role of Santa Claus.

Burton clearly delineates the Land of the Living—in this case Victorian England—from the Land of the Dead by emphasizing blues and grays and dull mauves in the color palette of the human world, while the Land of the Dead is presented in festive, gay tones.

It’s up above where Victor (voice by Depp) has been forced by his social-climbing mother and fish-canner father into an arranged marriage to the wispy Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson), a young woman he has never laid eyes on, but who comes from a long socially stellar line.

That Victoria’s parents are down to their last shilling is a fact Victor Van Dort and his parents aren’t aware of, nor is anyone else, for that matter. Although Victoria’s parents Maudeline (Joanna Lumley of Absolutely Fabulous) and Finis Everglot (Albert Finney) are unpleasantly disdainful of their intended nouveau riche in-laws, they need the money. “How could our family have come to this?” moans Maudeline upon meeting the unprepossessing Victor.

A spoiler turns up at the wedding rehearsal in the dashingly pompous form of Lord Barkis Bittern (Richard E. Grant). The rehearsal turns chaotic when Victor can’t remember his lines and the austere, long-faced pastor (Christopher Lee) sends Victor off into the night, humiliated, to learn his vows.

Victor dashes off to the woods, where he accidentally meets the Corpse Bride (Helena Bonham Carter, who is Burton’s real-life love). A woman who’d been left at the altar and later murdered for her jewels by her intended bridegroom, she comes to believe that Victor has proposed to her!

To add to the fun, the Corpse Bride, whose name is Emily, is a dead ringer—pardon the expression—for Angelina Jolie, or at least an Angelina Jolie with a chunk missing from her cheek and a worm with the voice of Peter Lorre popping out of an eye socket from time to time. (Maudeline Everglot looks very much like the wicked stepmother in Walt Disney’s Cinderella.)

It’s not long before the terrified and befuddled Victor begins to like the more cheerful and open atmosphere of the Underworld, a big change from the stifling world of Victorian England. After all, there are those high-kicking skeletons, the rainbow of colors, the ghoulish fun and someone to love him for himself, no matter if her eyeball occasionally falls out.

But can a marriage between a living man and a dead woman have much of a future? It’s a question “Corpse Bride” gets to, well, the bottom of in a nifty series of one-liners, inventive sight gags and wild insanity. The Underworld looks a bit like the environs of Halloweentown, and the funny bits come so fast you might have to see it again.

Burton and Co. are having a ball and run with the concept. The Underworld, after all, is such a happy place that “people are dying to get down here.” The piano Victor plays is a Harryhausen, an insider joke that pays tribute to master stop-motion animation genius Ray Harryhausen. When Emily falls for Victor she explains that he “takes my breath away… or would if I had any.”

Yet with all this daffiness, “Corpse Bride” maintains a wistful, sentimental tone. There is left-behind Victoria, after all. In her brief moments with Victor she has discovered her soulmate. And that gives all the film’s craziness a grounding in the real world of the living that’s touching and heartfelt. I do not agree with Burton’s concept of death, but I did enjoy this piece of rare cinematography.

Violence: None / Profanity: Minor / Sex/Nudity: Minor

Year of Release—2005 / USA release: September 23, 2005 (wide).

Viewer Comments
Neutral—The good things about this film is that there are no sex scenes (Victor, Victoria, and the Corpse Bride are all pretty virginal for the most part), little profanity (a priest utters the word “Hell” but it is only in reference to shooing away the dead corpses and skeletons from coming into church; it wasn’t used in a vulgar manner), and it’s a wonderfully made film in the manner of Tim Burton’s previous creation “A Nightmare Before Christmas.” According to the Internet Movie Database, it took 55 excruciating weeks to do thousands of individual shots of each character’s bodily movements.

My bit about the film is that it isn’t Biblically sound. There isn’t a “land of the dead” but a real place called Hell for those who have rejected God and His Son, Jesus Christ. The part about Victor drinking poison to be with Emily, the corpse bride, was messed up. Still, I think the macabre portion of “Corpse Bride” would have to do with the gothic subculture of the Victorian era (think about the novels such as Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Dracula by Bram Stoker).

The voice talents of Johnny Depp (he appears in some of Tim Burton’s movies so that’s no surprise), Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson, Christopher Lee, and others are wonderful. Depp is convincing as a young, naive Victor.

I’m not a huge fan of Tim Burton and I’ve only seen a few of his films, including this one (parts of “Edward Scissorhands” and “A Nightmare Before Christmas” for starters), however, this is extremely well made. Still, the gothic and the macabre are not my tastes, and the film seems as if Burton took one of Edgar Allen Poe’s poems/short stories and made a claymation movie out of it.

For a better and Christian-friendly Tim Burton film, go rent “Big Fish” on DVD.
My Ratings: Average / 5
—Shannon H., age 24
Positive—This movie was exceptionally good. I went with my daughter and we both enjoyed it. I love being able to go to the movies and not have all that trash from the world put in it. Overall, it was a great movie…
My Ratings: Excellent! / 5
—Margret, age 40
Positive—This movie is an amazing feat; I have seen both of Tim Burton’s films that went to the theatre this year and to have two well made movies in the course of four months is stunning. I keep hearing about all of these dark, occultic references in the movie. To an extent, it is a dark movie (the sun is not shining, and it is night through 99% if the movie)…

The corpse bride, Victor, and Victoria are all very likable people. The corpse bride was betrayed by her one true love and she now believes Victor is the man whom she should spend all eternity with. She loves him just for putting a ring on her finger by accident and does all things with pure intentions. This movie is not occultic, the amount of spell casting and other such things is reminiscent of Cinderella, that is all.

This film is not for kids 10 and under, but pre teens and up should find it a funny and satisfying romp through a love triangle with no sex and almost non existent language.
My Ratings: Better than Average / 5
—Chris, age 21
Neutral—I went to see this movie with my five year old brother who loves scary movies. I think that the movie is wittty, interesting, and unique. However, I do not recommend taking a five year old to see this movie. It is very dark (not scary for an adult). He wanted to leave with onle 10 mins left in the movie.
My Ratings: Average / 4
—Katie, age 20
Neutral—Why do some Christians keep on harshly judging Tim Burton for having a “demonic” imagination? If you think he’s so evil, maybe you should pray for him or something. Or maybe you should stop judging him, as that goes against the Bible. This movie is not as dark as any of his old school stuff (like Nightmare Before Xmas, Beetlejuice, etc.) I think Burton has actually lightened up a lot, compared to what he did back in the 80s and early 90s. This movie is actually pretty kid friendly; it’s cute. Not as kid friendly as “Charlie,” as the subject matter is pretty dark, but parents should use their own judgment. When I was a kid, I had no trouble watching Burton’s movies but if you think it might be too scary, don’t take em!
My Ratings: Average / 4½
—Lydia, age 18
Negative—This movie is an abomination. Don’t be fooled. It is not a good scare for any misguided Christian parent who still lets their children celebrate Halloween. I only stayed to watch the entire film so I could honestly warn others about its disturbing content. It is sickening, morose and dangerous for children or adults. As a Christian parent, hopefully your first instincts would be that this is necromancy and absolutely contrary to God’s word.

This twisted and dark view from Tim Burton’s heavily demonic influenced imagination goes way beyond just mixing the overt sexuality of voluptuous women with rotting bluish flesh that falls down around their ankles like a loose sock. It goes on to make a joke out of a Jiminy Cricket-like maggot worm that lives inside the Corpse Bride’s head, who passes out nuggets of ghoulish advice, like a conscience, while simultaneously eating on the brides decaying brain. (I am not making any of this up.) This movie glorifies death and the underworld as a great place to go. Huge drunken parties are thrown for all new arrivals, complete with live bands, disembodied heads that are carried around on the backs of cockroaches, and dangling esophaguses that spill the liquor into non-existent stomachs.

The movies hero promises to bring the story to a climax with his own suicide in front of all his friends and family, both living and dead, so he can then properly marry the dead bride. The live humans are all grotesque and evil and being dead (even by suicide) is glamorized as being more desirable because then you are among the fun-loving people. I have only touched the surface of the horrendousness of this piece of trash. Please don’t see for yourself if I am right.
My Ratings: Extremely Offensive / 4
—Jonah, age 41
Positive—Let me state at first, that this movie does not, repeat NOT, reflect the Biblical view of death and what awaits an unsaved (or saved) individual. Yes, it does treat death as many picture it, a place where you meet your friends and have a great time of dancing, drinking and laughing. In this, it does a diservice to all in doing death this way. However, what can one expect from someone who does not know the truth?

One other thought is that this movie pictures what many think of Christians. That we have no fun, but instead are bound by rigid and strict rules.

Having said that, this is an unusual fairy tale. Tim Burton does take time in developing both the plot and the characters associated with the show. It is dark in spots, but there is humor to lighten the mood, and there are no really scary scenes. For a movie for enjoyment, it is a good one, but for any heavier spiritual debate, it is sorely lacking.

The one area that does relate to a spiritual meaing is true love. True love, is where you end up loving someone inspite of their faults. This is shown several times, and the sacrifice that true love brings. This is evident at the very end, but will not persue this thought it any further as it gives away the ending. In this, it did remind me of Christ’s love for us, when we were unlovely. Christ did show us his love, by dying for us, when what we earned and deserved was eternal hell. He gave himself freely for us, and in the movie, that last scene shows what is true love. It was a fitting end for the movie.

As to going to see the movie, I would recommend it. However, make sure that all that go (especially young ones) that this does not picture the Biblical viewpoint of death and what awaits.
My Ratings: Average / 5
—David, age 55
Positive—I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. The movie quality was extremely pleasing. It was funny and a very nice alternative for movie watching during this October month when many others are watching the cut and slash movies that usually dominate the theater during Halloween. No foul language. No sexual content. Appropriate and enjoyable for the whole family.
My Ratings: Good / 5
—David McDaniel, age 33
Positive—Another amazing film from Tim Burton, a man with true creative vision in a sea of poor execution and boring visuals. The man is an amazing director, and I have a massive amount of respect for him and all his work, and the way he has defined such an unimitable style, that is instantly definable as Burton’s.

This film is a must-see, and I have to say that earlier comments made by a negative reviewer are in my opinion over-the-top and attempting to make a much bigger deal of what is, essentially, an animated film set so deeply in the realms of fantasy and unreality that it shouldn’t be possible to be affected by it’s so called negative message. I cannot imagine any child watching this film and then wishing that they would die because of the way the Underworld is depicted. If your children think this, they have real problems, potentially due to ideas being forced upon them in the first place? And therefore little real, personal definition of right and wrong, good and evil and most importantly—choice.

Make a good choice, and see this film for the sake of your own experience; it is an amazing addition to Tim Burton’s repertoire.
My Ratings: Good / 5
—Joe Dimuantes, England, age 19
Positive—I really enjoyed this film. I caught the Ray Haryhausen tribute as well and that set the tone for me. I thought this film had the best parody of a bar band since the original Star Wars. Did anyone else catch the Ray Charles send up playing piano?
My Ratings: Average / 4
—Rob Campbell, age 44
Positive—…I liked it a lot. Mind you, this film’s portrayal of the afterlife is not Biblical, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is a good film, with several redeeming aspects:

1. The character design is a step up from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” The living and dead characters all look great.

2. I loved the voice work, especially Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter.

3. The songs were pretty neat, though not as good as the ones in “Nightmare Before Christmas.”

4. The pastor, played by the great Christopher Lee, is living proof of Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” You will notice that, during the scene when he is trying to keep the dead people from entering the church, he never once calls on the name of Jesus to keep them back, he seemed to be mainly relying on his own authority, which would not work against the supernatural.

5. Most of the characters are quite sympathetic.

6. It has a very good ending. SPOILERS! The evil Barkis gets what he deserves, Victor and Victoria end up together, and Emily (The Corpse Bride) is allowed to finally rest in peace.

While it’s not a film for young children, I definitely enjoyed it.
My Ratings: Average / 4½
—Adam, age 21
Positive—Love the movie. Have seen both Charles and the Chocolate Factory and “Corpse Bride” which Tim Burton made at the same time. Found the style is unique and awesome in both films. I like the plotting and witty witty conversation. If Charles and the Chocolate Factory reminds you the red colour and rainbow with bitter, then Corpse Bride takes the greyish blue with peace. What I can say more? I love the movie and I love the tone, the style—and how Emily got into Victor’s heart. Remember the piano duet which Victor and Emily reconcilated?
For the only offensive scene, why the priest is so disgusting?
My Ratings: Better than Average / 5
—Katherin, age 40

Comments from young people
Neutral—…although I was not particularly offended by the film (though I realise more sensitive people would be), I simply found it repetitive, the action seeming to drag somewhat in the middle. My younger sister (9 years old) wanted to go see this movie, but I recommended that she go and see Wallace and Gromit instead as I felt there were some scenes in the film that would be too dark and scary for younger children. Although the film seems to promote love and creativity, there are dark overtones to the entire film, in particular; that Victor must kill himself to remain married to the Corpse Bride. However, this is probably to be expected from a Tim Burton movie, I still would not recommend it to young children, nor those who are particularly sensitive.
My Ratings: Average / 3½
—Elanor James, age 17
Positive—I want to start off by saying that this is a fairytale, fiction movie and that was based off a 19th century Russian folk tale, so you might want to read into that before making assumptions about this film. This movie was absolutely beautiful! The scenery and the characters were very well done and it was a lot smoother then “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” I am really hoping that this will win an award this year for best animated film, because it deserves it. They did so very well with the expressions and even the singing details!

The story was very beautiful as well. It had very neat surprises and twists and a rather good moral to the story that no matter what, two lovers will do anything for eac hother. The only thing that a few families might find offensive is the fact that there is a Land of the Dead and a Land of the Living. The Land of the Living is a very boring, Victorian town. The Land of the Dead is more of a party 1930’s place filled with a bunch of dead people. …this is a story and not what will actually happen when we die. We all know that Heaven and Hell is real, and there is no such thing as a Land of the Dead. But as a mentioned, it’s a MOVIE. A folk tale. Let your imagination run wild.

I would recommend this film to anybody who is a big Tim Burton or Danny Elfman fan. It was really a treat for me. The songs were very cute and catchy. …It isn’t demonic if you were wondering. There is a scene that involves abit of witchcraft to cast a spell to send Emily (The Corpse Bride) and Victor to the Land of the Living, but it is a very short scene and didn’t find it offensive at all. Overall, I was very pleased with the movie, but it isn’t Tim Burton’s best. “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” is still my favorite which I recommend to younger viewers. This movie would attract teenagers and young adults more then children.
My Ratings: Good / 5
—Charity, age 16
Positive—…a really cute movie!! The animation was wonderful, and the voices were really cool!! I think that this movie is perfact for all ages!!
My Ratings: Good / 4½
—Ginger, age 10
Positive—I took my 8-year-old neice to see this one, and we both loved it. It’s very interesting, fun, and I think a visually stunning film. My one complaint is that the vocal talents seem to be mostly tone-deaf and often break into tone-deaf harmonies, in minor keys that really pain my ears. As with any film made by the world that deals with death, you may have to explain what the Bible has to say about those subjects to your children. After the film, my neice and I were able to talk about just that. So as long as children understand it’s all “make-believe” and not based on truth, then it’s a great family film.
My Ratings: Good / 4½
—Grace, age 17
Positive—…the first thing I thought after seeing it was “Wow.” I simply loved this movie. The animation was wonderful, compared to his earlier masterpiece, “The Nightmare Before Christmas”, which was a little choppy at some points. The characters were wonderful; the script was superb, and the plot was awesome.

I only saw a few things that were offensive. One of the things that really bothered me was a drunk skeleton. I have been raised strongly against alcohol and drugs, so that offended me. Another thing that wasn’t offensive to me, but might me offensive to other Christians is that this wise old skeleton had whipped up a potion for the Corpse Bride (Emily) and Victor to visit the “Living World.” There are also some points in which Emiley looks kind of… evil… when she is very angry.

Otherwise than those few things, the movie is just fine, and I highly reccomend it! I give it an A+++++!
My Ratings: Better than Average / 5
—Samantha, age 15
Positive—This movie was good. I… saw it with my niece and nephew; they thoroughly enjoyed it. As a teenager I even found myself laughing at some of the comic qualities. This is in no way an offensive movie, and I would reccomend it.
My Ratings: Good / 4
—Jean, age 16
Movie Critics
…The animation is astounding, and the story and characters are just as compelling. …an unexpectedly touching celebration of love told in a quirky and inventive style.
—USA Today, Claudia Puig
…most certainly not a film for the youngest children. …dark subject matter…
—Orlando Sentinel, Roger Moore
…silly theology …a staggering visual achievement …a gothic work of art…
—Plugged In, Christopher Lyon
…exceedingly clever, with dialogue that kids and adults alike will be eagerly quoting…
—Detroit Free Press, Terry Lawson