Corpse Bride review by The Grim Ringler

The Corpse Bride

The Corpse Bride

            For those people out there in videoland, the ones who insist that only indie films are good, that if it is American it’s crap, and that film is dead, I present Corpse Bride, a film of both intellect and lyrical beauty. A film that doesn’t make things easy, or give us the traditional happy ending. It is a film, I dare say, that shows how damned talented Tim Burton is. Sure, sure, we have his adult fairytales, which solidified his place in trendy stores and in the hearts of people who always feel drawn to ugly love. But personally, Burton hasn’t seemed like his old self of late. His films haven’t had any truth to them, or any honest depth. Sure, Charlie was fine, and Big Fish was ok, but neither really captured the essence of HIM. The hell of it here is that it took a collaboration to really bring out the best in Burton, but I tell you what, if this is the kind of stuff he can do when he works with other people, if this is the material he can create, I wish he’d collaborate more often. Film would be a lot better off for it.

            Corpse Bride’s story comes from an old Russian legend about a young woman, dead before her time who, through dark magic and misfortune, manages to snare herself a living man as her groom, despite the fact that he’s to be wed to someone who still wears all her skin out in public. The film seems to be a pretty close approximation to that tale of yore but it has been filled out in the most wonderful of ways. What we have is Victor (Johnny Depp), a quiet and lonely heir to a fish fortune, who is meant to marry Victoria (Helena Bonham Carter), a beautiful and equally quiet young woman who is the daughter of a well-regarded family. The union will give Victor’s family a good reputation as more than just ‘fish people’, which has yet to happen, despite their wealth, and it will give Victoria’s family the wealth they have squandered away. Neither Victor nor Victoria is anxious to marry, especially a stranger, but when they finally meet, accidentally as Victor plays the piano Victoria has been forbidden from touching, it is love at first sight. They are soulmates, and it is pure luck that has put them together. And this unlikely romance should end with Happily Ever After, and would, if it weren’t for the meddling parents and the arcane wedding ceremony that makes Victor so nervous that he isn’t able to go through a wedding rehearsal without a mistake. Angered at Victor’s blunders the preacher puts the wedding on hold, demanding that Victor practice and master his vows. So, feeling like an utter fool, Victor wanders out into the night and into the dark woods. As he walks though, his disappointment and dejection turns into confidence and he begins spouting his vows with ease. He gets so cocky in fact that he places the ring intended for Victoria onto what he thinks is an errant tree limb, and recites his vows perfectly. What he doesn’t realize is that he has just fulfilled a different sort of a vow, this one created by a forgotten woman who had died the night she was to be married, and who has waited patiently for the right man to come along to love her. And since Victor said the vows, it must be him. Her name lost through the ages, the Corpse Bride falls madly in love with Victor, feeling that this is truly the man that will love her and cherish her. The man she has been waiting for for so very long. So the Corpse Bride takes Victor to her world, the world of the dead so they can be married. But Victor has other plans, and wants nothing more than to be away from this hideous corpse, and back to Victoria. In his absence though Victoria’s family has found another suitor for their daughter, a cultured man of mystery who seems to have other things on mind than love when he asks for Victoria’s hand in marriage, much to her dismay. And when Victor learns of this his heart breaks, and he sees that, perhaps he is better off dead and with the Corpse Bride, who really does seem to need him. But when both the wedding of Victoria and the stranger and the wedding between Victor and the bride converge, things are bound to get messy.

Featuring the usual, cartoonish characters that Burton’s drawing and previous ‘animated’ film displayed, the style of this film is but the first of many great strokes. Set in a sort of Other World that mixes Victorian styles with a Hammer Films sensibility, it’s interesting that the dead seem to be far more alive than the living, actually appreciating each moment as the living worry each moment away. The acting is terrific and you really start to ache over these characters and their dilemmas. The characters become more than puppets, more than clay, they become part of a story so compelling that you cease to see the trickery and technology and see a beautiful story of loss and love. This is one of those films that I really hope children are able to see in that it’s a wonderful look at love, and that sometimes letting go is the best thing to do. That this doesn’t have an easy, or completely happy ending fits the film, and the story perfectly, and feels like an honest conclusion. Too many times a happy ending is grafted onto a story because audiences hate a downer. Well, sure they do, but what they hate more is when you cheat them at the end of the film. Pain, sacrifice, sadness, are all real, genuine things, honest things, and sometimes a story, a film, has to end with those things in order to stay true to what has come before it. Thankfully Corpse Bride stays very true. But this isn’t a downer of a film. There are some fantastic songs from Danny Elfman, some wonderful setpieces, great characters – there are SO many fun characters in the land of the dead that it’s hard to pick a favorite. And it was great to see two heroines who are not damsels in distress but who are doomed by fate. Both are good, strong women, but Victoria needs someone like Victor to spur hope in her, just as the bride needs Victor to rekindle her own dormant love. And it’s nice to see, in Victor, a character that isn’t a complete misfit, but is just uncertain of himself. A lot of Burton’s characters are so isolated that it makes them hard to empathize with.

A remarkably beautiful and well made film, it’s the sort of picture that makes you wish Burton would stick to this format. Or at least do more with it. Outside of the stringent Hollywood system he’s a hell of a storyteller, but stuck in it, he’s a decent moviemaker. A perfect romance and a great movie for dark and stormy nights. Share it with someone dead.



9 out of 10 Jackasses
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