Corpse Bride – The son of a wealthy fishmonger, Victor Van Dort is to be married to Victoria Everglot, daughter of a once noble but now secretly bankrupt family. Although social status and money entwining benefits the parents, not much care is given to the socially awkward Victor and naively sweet Victoria. But when Victor accidentally proposes to a long dead and cursed Bride, he finds himself captured by matrimony in the underworld. However, whilst he is trapped below, danger is advancing on Victoria above. Can Victor escape the determined Corpse Bride and return to the world of the living in time, or is there more life on offer in the land of the dead ?

Corpse Bride (2015) – Director: Tim Burton, Mike Johnson

Corpse bride for children poster

By Source, Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2286217

Rating: PG

Running Length: 77 mins

Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Emily Watson

Genre: Animation, Comedy, Horror

REVIEW: CORPSE BRIDE

Whilst Tim Burton is ‘known’ for previous lauded stop-motion animation classics such as ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ and ‘James and the Giant Peach’ it is often forgotten that, whilst Burton produced and was responsible for creative vision, it was Henry Selick who actually directed those movies (as well as the superb ‘Coraline‘). ‘Corpse Bride’ marks Burton’s first full directing credit (albeit as co-director) and the signature grotesque gothic Burton style is here in spades. What says ‘Burton’ more than a literal Corpse Bride? And when you have animation studio LAIKA involved (The Boxtrolls, ParaNorman, Kubo and the Two Strings, Coraline again) then the raw talent condensed into this short movie is considerable!

As par for the course in a Burton movie, the characters are instantly recognisable. Victor Van Dort is the shy and socially awkward son of lower-class-done-good parents who are desperate to ‘buy’ their way into the aristocracy by way of marrying him off to the daughter of an old noble family, – little knowing that the proud and snobbish Everglots are actually destitute and are distastefully looking to use their sweet daughter as means to get their hands on the Van Dort’s money. The grey and miserable world is full of social climbers and people obsessed with status and money, with little room for such frivolities as ‘love’.

In contrast, of course, is the lively and colourful underworld full of vibrant skeletons and bodies marked by various causes of death. And the epitome of this is the Corpse Bride herself. Naïve and tragically murdered before marriage, she endlessly seeks someone to finally become her husband to lift her curse. With bits falling off but with an innocent beauty about her, the Bride is another common Burton motif: that the unusual outsider has so much more to give than the self-obsessed conformist.

Despite so much love going into the visuals, the plot itself is rather predictable and seemingly too long and too short at the same time, almost as if it needed a bit more time to lead into the final act so as to add some more subplot detail. But once Victor tries (and fails) to escape the underworld, the plot meanders around for 20 minutes wondering what to do with itself, and the inevitable clashing of the ‘full of life’ dead and the repressed living, whilst fun, is barely explained as why it is necessary. Why do the dead take a wedding ceremony to a church in the world of the living? Why, because how else would the worlds collide, that’s why! Slightly wonky narrative logic aside, ‘Corpse Bride’ is full of visual splendour, comically twisted characters and has such an overarching sense of tongue-in-cheek fun that you won’t be able to help saying, ‘I do’ either!

CONTENT: IS CORPSE BRIDE SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?

The introduction sequence pans around a monochrome town with blank faced people populating it. Two men are systematically chopping fish in half. One slaps the (apparently dead) fish onto a board whilst the other chops it in two with one swipe of a large blade, before pushing the head to one side and the body into a bucket. This is done in a very workman like manner and this part of the scene lasts around 5 seconds.

Victor goes wandering (oblivious) through a scary looking forest at night-time whilst he keeps practising the exact vows he has to recite for his wedding. He keeps getting this wrong and at one point raises both hands to chest height and says, “with this hand I will cup your……no!” This will likely be too subtle for small children.

As part of the same scene, when Victor reaches the end of his practice he puts a wedding ring on what appears to be a branch sticking out from the ground. The branch looks hand like, and indeed it cracks and grabs him, making him yelp in fear. Whilst ravens watch in the bare trees, the hand becomes an arm which snaps off but continues to grab Victor. He shrieks, and scrabbles away as the ‘Corpse Bride’ pulls herself bodily out of the ground. The music is very dramatic and this scene could be scary for younger viewers although it is a little comical and slapstick in nature also due to Victor fleeing but constantly running into things. The Bride is dressed in a wedding dress but is in a middle state of decomposition in that she is mostly whole but there is a gap in the side of her face through which her teeth can be seen, and there is a gap in her side where ribs are visible. Also, one of her arms and hands are skeletal. She advances on him relentlessly until finally grabbing him amongst a loud musical boom and whispers, “you may kiss the bride!”. The camera swirls round and round the pair until the scene fades to black. This scene is around 4 minutes long and could be too intense for some children. If your child is upset by this scene, then although the rest of the movie is not as strong, it could be that this movie is not for your child. This scene is shown in the clip below so you can judge for yourself.

Victor wakes up in a bar in the ‘underworld’ where the dead live, in varying states of decomposition or pure skeletal form. Despite the macabre setting the tone is colourful and comical. There are lots of skeleton jokes, like some drinking and having the drink pour through them, and some pull swords from each other and re-slotting them in to no apparent harm. A bartender arrives as just a head on a platter, and this scurries about carried by cockroaches. The Bride is talking and her eye pops out. A worm sticks part way out of her eye socket and talks to her. The worm is a recurring character either talking to her in her own skull or again popping her eye out in order to say something. She catches the eye and sticks it back in most times.

A skeleton in the bar has only one eyeball which rolls back and forth between the two sockets. It sings a song to fill in the back story for the Bride. This has lyrics such as, “Die, Die, we all pass away,” and, “Murder most foul!”. The Bride’s tale is partly shown in silhouette and when it is implied she is murdered, the screen goes black.

One man in the underworld says, “Oh, excuse me,” and then splits himself in half so that both halves go separately around the person. In side profile his heart, brain and intestines are visible. This is very quick but happens several times in the movie.

One character receives a gift. He rattles it before opening and finds it to be bones. The bones shake out of his grip and rattle on the floor before forming a dog skeleton. The dog (‘Scraps’) then behaves as any dog would.

One character has been shown to have a nasty cough at several points. Around halfway through the movie the cough gets worse until he pitches over from driving a carriage. He collapses out of shout but it is implied that the carriage subsequently runs him over. He is later shown in the underworld, having died. However, he is happy to be dead and is happier in the underworld than he was whilst alive.

When concocting a plan to prevent a character from leaving, some characters openly consider killing them as a reasonable viable alternative should they not agree.

During a scene where Victor’s clothes are repaired there are a lot of singing spiders! One spider character in particular constantly in the movie. They are never shown to be scary or threatening but they may upset any child who does not like seeing spiders.

During the last Act, masses of the dead decide to visit the world of the living. One creature introduces itself to an alive character by saying, “Excuse me. You don’t know me but I used to live in your dead mother”.

The dead, on meeting up with the living, act vaguely scary and advance on several people. The scenes are played for laughs on behalf of the scared reactions of the townsfolk but this quickly resolves when either group begin to recognise old friends and relations amongst the other side.

The villain, once revealed, is cornered by the dead. They advance on the villain slowly and he cowers in fear. They push him through a door and close it behind them. We don’t see what happens to him after that.

CAN I SEE A CLIP?
VERDICT: IS CORPSE BRIDE FOR KIDS?

‘Corpse Bride’ fits into that rough category as ‘horror for kids’. It isn’t as outright tense or scary as some other similar movies (such as ParaNorman or Monster House) but obviously the central theme of the movie is death and dead characters and the movie takes many visual and musical cues from old school horror, something which Burton has been doing for years. But that said, there is a rich vein of slapstick humour present (as well as an adult subtext of social-climbing nonsense) to temper any scary parts and, aside from the initial appearance of the Bride, there isn’t ever really any protracted moments that may upset children. Therefore, we would recommend that this movie is suitable for children aged 7 and up.

  • Violence: 0/5
  • Emotional Distress: 1/5 (the Bride can get morose at her situation at times when it is clear that Victor does not want to stay. Victoria is emotional at seeing Victor and the Bride together)
  • Fear Factor: 3/5 (mostly due to the forest scene with the Bride pulling herself out of her ‘grave’. But depending on a child’s temperament the ‘underworld’ may or may not be an issue)
  • Sexual Content: 0/5
  • Bad Language: 0/5
  • Dialogue: 3/5 (several references to death and murder. One dead woman asks when seeing Victor, “Ooo, does he have a dead brother?)
  • Other Notes: Deals with themes of marrying for money, loveless marriage, misleading women, social status, repressing emotions, social awkwardness, magical curses, poisoning, and death generally.

Words by Michael Record

 

The Tim Burton Collection [DVD] [1985]


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