I feel like Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride doesn’t get nearly enough love and praise for what a wonderful film it is. The acclaim and lasting impression really stuck to Burton and Henry Selick’s A Nightmare Before Christmas and rightly so, but this is every bit as inspired, packed with catchy tunes, casted with beloved actors and filled with gorgeous stop motion splendour. Plus it’s the keystone Johnny Depp/Helena Bonham Carter outing for me because even though we only get their voices the animation is tailored to each respective essence and we feel their physical presences heavily in spirit.
Depp voices Victor Van Dort, a spindly, nervous creation who’s about to be pressured into one of those delightful old arranged Victorian marriages by his domineering parents (Tracey Ullman and Paul Whitehouse). The bride to be is Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson) and wouldn’t you know it they actually do fall in love despite circumstances, which is a nice subvert of the trope that I enjoyed. There’s always gotta be a third though and she arrives in the form of the titular Corpse Bride (Bonham Carter), a deceased girl brought back to life when Victor practices his vows in the local cemetery. This sets in motion a chain of fantastical, macabre, adorable and altogether brilliant set pieces, musical numbers, fight scenes, rich and thoughtful character relations and visual genius like a big old animated Halloween parade.
The cast is stacked too, full of beloved Burton regulars like Albert Finney and Joanna Lumley as Victoria’s crusty, aristocratic parents, Christopher Lee as a cantankerous undead vicar, Richard E. Grant, Michael Gough, Deep Roy and Danny Elfman himself as a rambunctious spooky skeleton called Bonejangles who fronts an undead jazz band. Hell there’s even a worm that looks and sound like the great Peter Lorre which I couldn’t tell if was done deliberately but if so bravo. This thing doesn’t even breach ninety minutes but it’s so full of life, death, colour, incident, song, music, dance and joy that it seems way longer than it actually is. It’s also got a grounded maturity in the way we see this completely ridiculous yet somehow very touching love triangle unfold, and by the end you really feel for Carter’s Corpse Bride and empathize with her situation. A technical marvel, a beautifully told tale and one of Burton’s very best.