October is Halloween movie month! Having been completely deprived of any kind of Halloween experience growing up, I now spend 31 days celebrating with film and TV. I like to shoot for a mix of old and new, horror and comedy, from the slightly spooky to the totally terrifying to the just plain weird. Each day of October I’ll reviewing one of these ventures in the realm of the creepy and supernatural. Some will be high quality cinema and some will require large amounts of alcohol to survive. Stock up on seasonal beer and Fireball-apple jello shots and join me! A warning, though – unless the review is of a very recent release, HERE BE SPOILERS.
Corpse Bride (2005)
Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson
Synopsis: In Generic Victorian Village, two young people (Victor and Victoria) are preparing for their arranged marriage, which will elevate the status of his family and replenish the wealth of hers. Both are shy with overbearing parents, but like each other upon meeting. Victor forgets the vows during the rehearsal and retreats to the woods to practice. When he puts the wedding ring on what he thinks is a tree branch he is dragged down to the Land of the Dead and is told he’s just married Emily, a tattered corpse in a wedding dress who was killed on her wedding night. Victor tricks Emily into helping him get back to the land of the living so he can talk to Victoria but Emily catches him with her and jealously drags him back down to the underworld. Victoria’s parents decide to marry her off to a rich newcomer in town. Victor feels bad for breaking Emily’s heart again and, hearing of Victoria’s new betrothal, agrees to finalize their marriage by repeating their vows in the land of the living and drinking poison to die and be with Emily forever. The undead wedding party causes much commotion in the town, as everyone’s dead loved ones reappear to them. Emily sees Victoria on her way to her own wedding and feels guilty that she is robbing Victoria of the happiness she herself was denied. Furthermore, she realizes Victoria’s new fiance is the man who killed her, and that he is just after Victoria’s money (which she doesn’t have). Emily stops the ceremony and tricks the murderer into drinking the poison that was meant for Victor. He is banished to the underworld and Emily sets Victor free to marry Victoria, transforming into a cloud of butterflies.
Tim Burton returns to both stop-motion animation and the world of the dead and gruesome in this brightened-up adaptation of a Jewish folktale. Unsuprisingly for Burton, the land of the living is far grimmer and bleaker than the Land of the Dead, which is colorful and full of wonder. Although he wants to return home, Victor can’t help but be charmed by his temporary home, and by Emily, who despite being a little maggoty and occasionally losing an eyeball, has far more life and personality than his betrothed seems to, at least at first. This classic Burton – our world is always drab compared to what’s down the rabbit hole, inside the candy factory, or in the land beyond. We know we can’t stay there, but we can improve our own world by bringing a little bit of that magic back with us.
The strength of this movie is in it’s animation, which is flawless and distinctive. I can’t say this is my favorite Burton movie or stop-motion movie (perhaps I’m just over forced marriage plots), but it’s still worth a watch, short and elegant in it’s relative simplicity. The musical numbers are extremely enjoyable, enriching what might be a slightly thin plot with a twisted Disney-esque feel. And the richness of the Land of the Dead, complete with Victor’s dead pet dog Scraps (there’s always a dog), recalls an even cheerier version of Halloweentown.
The character arcs are simple, but satisfying as well. Victor and Victoria find their spines and become worthy of each other. They may have liked each other well enough when they met, but without this trial it’s doubtful they could have made much of the marriage if they never had to fight for each other. Emily learns to move on from her grief, stop being selfish, and have empathy for others. The parents don’t learn anything, but we wouldn’t expect them to. There are always people who refuse to see or be moved.
Emily’s character deign is also a standout of the film, dazzling in comparison to the bleak town yet still distinctive and hauntingly beautiful in the Land of the Dead. She is lovely and tragic, as all the best Burton heroines are, and many folktale heroines as well. The film really is a folktale at is heart, with a clear moral message under the macabre style and few fleshed out characters. It is a gem, if not the brightest in the Unified Burtonverse.
Quality: 6 Scraps out of 10 for clear storytelling and excellent animation.
Enjoyability: 8 out of 10 swarms of butterflies for pure eye candy and a satisfying ending.