A tiny, blue butterfly flutters about after being set free from the clasp of two frail, pale hands. It flies aimlessly up the streets and down the alleys of the fictitious British city of yore that is the setting of TIM BURTON’S CORPSE BRIDE. It is a tiny burst of colour in an otherwise dark and gloomy (read: typical for Burton) city and consequently dark and gloomy life of Victor, who has just set this creature free after having immortalized it with paint and paper. Victor, voiced effetely by Johnny Depp, is to be married to a woman he’s never met the very next day in order to increase the stature of his family – a fate equivalent to keeping a beautiful butterfly under glass until its inevitable death.
These nuptials must go according to plan, as much is at stake for both families involved. What fun would all this be if that’s what actually happened though? While trying to get a grip on his pre-wedding anxiety in the forest just outside of town, Victor meets Emily, the “Corpse Bride”, voiced by Helena Bonham Carter. Emily’s story is the stuff fairy tales are made of. Once in a love with a rich, handsome type, that her parents did not approve of, she made the decision to elope. Only her fiancé had other plans. To be more specific, he killed her and ran off with her dowry. Not one to be deterred from her quest for true love, Emily decided to stick around the forest until a gentleman came along who would love her the way she deserved and for the rest of her afterlife.
Who hasn’t been there before, more or less? Jilted by love one too many times, we wait for the perfect someone to come along and find us sitting there, sweeping us away with promises of forever. Like Emily, we might end up waiting a while. Are we as good as dead if we just sit and wait for love to find us? I know we’re tired and broken but we’re certainly not proactive, if that’s our approach.
Being dead isn’t so bad in this town though. In fact, the underworld is a hell of a lot more swinging than the one up on the ground. Skeletal folk living it up, singing of love, in vivid, wild colour while the living focus on their bank balances and inappropriate behaviour at the dinner table. This contrast could have ended up being terribly blatant but Burton and co-director, Mike Johnson, aren’t satisfied with leaving it so black and white. Victor and his intended bride-to-be are actually in love. Thus there is something worth fighting for, something worth living for, something ripe with possibility that grows amidst the drab, dark despair of this supposed life.
To both push this story forward and kill some time, Burton and Johnson rely heavily on misplaced musical numbers, the opening song is promising but so much time goes by without another song popping up that you forget you’re even watching a musical. And despite my reluctance to make obvious comparisons, I can’t help but miss the jubilant and disturbing soundtrack to Burton’s previous, more cohesive stop-motion film, THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. Thankfully, the characters are both animated and voiced so symbiotically that the visual feast is more than enough to keep your stomach from growling with discontent. In fact, it was mostly during scenes where no one was singing that I was hungry for more.
Hope always manages to make its presence known in the demented world of Burton films and, in the case of TIM BURTON’S CORPSE BRIDE, it carries you through to the end believing in love and the sacrifices one must make to let that love grow. One character asks, “Can a heart still break once it’s stopped beating?” The answer is found in the awesomely lively eyes of the already decaying Corpse Bride herself, a woman subjected to understand that if you try to keep life locked under glass, be that yours or someone else’s, death is the only inevitability.