Tim Burton's Corpse Bride

Tim Burton's Corpse Bride (often abbreviated as Corpse Bride) is a 2005 stop-motion-animation film based loosely on a 19th century Russian-Jewish folktale version of an older Jewish story and set in a fictional Victorian era village. It was directed by Tim Burton and Mike Johnson, and filmed at 3 Mills Studios in London. Johnny Depp led an all-star cast as the voice of Victor and Helena Bonham Carter (for whom the project was specially created) as the voice of the title character. This is the first animated film in which Johnny Depp has been a voice actor. The film's initial release was two weeks prior to that of Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, marking the first time that a stop-motion animated film and a claymation animated one were in simultaneous wide theatrical release. Interestingly, both films feature the voice of Helena Bonham Carter in a lead role and a character named Victor. Coincidentally, Burton's first stop-motion film, The Nightmare Before Christmas was released the same year as Nick Park's The Wrong Trousers.

The film was nominated in the 78th Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature. It lost to Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

The film is dedicated to the memory of Joe Ranft.

The movie exhibits Burton's trademark style and recurring themes (the complex interaction between light and darkness, and of being caught between two irreconcilable worlds). Life is portrayed as boring and dully gray tinted while death is more fun, as evidenced by the brighter colors and jaunty music. The movie can be particularly compared to The Nightmare Before Christmas, Burton's previous stop-motion feature project (directed by Henry Selick and based on a Tim Burton poem, which Corpse Bride director Mike Johnson worked on as an animator) and Beetlejuice, especially in the scenes depicting the underworld and its deceased denizens. The studio intentionally emphasized the links, as some commercials for Corpse Bride were accompanied by songs from The Nightmare Before Christmas (specifically, "What's This"); also, in an issue of Disney Adventures, Emily (the title character) was compared to The Nightmare Before Christmas's Sally, despite the stark contrasts in personality between the outspoken, free-spirited Emily and the quiet, timid Sally. The Corpse Bride is also considered to be the spiritual successor of The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Most of the characters in the film bear a strong resemblance to the original cast of the British period drama Upstairs, Downstairs. In the "Special Features" section of the DVD, Tim Burton states that the films' setting pays tribute to the series, with the Land of the Living being the "upstairs", and the Land of the Dead being the "downstairs".


The story is set in a cold, gloomy Victorian era town, a parody of aristocratic Europe. A nervous young man by the name of Victor Van Dort, son of nouveau riche fishmongers Nell and William Van Dort, is due to be wed to beautiful young Victoria Everglot, daughter of bankrupted hereditary aristocrats Maudeline and Finis Everglot. Victor isn't too keen on the idea of an arranged marriage with a woman he's never met before until he meets the charming Victoria face-to-face. The two hit it off from the start despite their earlier misgivings, falling in love with each other almost instantly. But after botching the wedding rehearsal (and accidentally setting Victoria's mother's skirt on fire in the process), Victor is banished by Pastor Galswells and forbidden to return until he can memorize his wedding vows properly.

Victor wanders through the forest practicing his vows, and consistently getting them wrong. At long last he gains confidence and successfully recites them, and upon spying a tree root that resembles a human hand, places his bride's wedding ring on it. No sooner has he done so, he realizes it really is a human hand as it comes to life and grabs him by the arm. Emerging from the frozen earth is the "Corpse Bride" Emily, an undead girl in a moldy, flowing wedding dress, and she declares Victor her husband. Victor attempts to flee, but the Corpse Bride corners and kisses him, after which he blacks out.

Victor awakens in a pub with the dead. Although terrified, Victor demands an explanation for where he and who everyone is. He learns that he is in the Land of the Dead, and is told how Emily was jilted, murdered and robbed during her intended elopement, and has been waiting for her true love to come and claim her ever since. He shudders and flees the building, but Emily finds Victor and attempts to bond with him, giving him a wedding present of the live skeleton of his beloved and long-deceased puppy, Scraps. Dearly wishing to return to Victoria, Victor convinces the Bride and the elderly Elder Gutknecht to return them both temporarily to the Land of the Living via a Ukrainian Haunting Spell (the only way to return is if either says "hopscotch") under the pretense of introducing her to his parents. Once they arrive, Victor secretly abandons Emily and reunites with Victoria. As they prepare to kiss, they are discovered by Emily; realizing the deception, Emily spirits Victor away to the Land of the Dead before a helpless and horrified Victoria's eyes.

Emily feels betrayed and heartbroken by Victor's deception, but begins to concede that maybe he and Victoria are meant for each other because they are both alive while Emily is not. Victoria, meanwhile tries to convince the pastor and her parents that Victor is in danger, but they express disbelief to her claims of a "corpse bride". Maudeline and Finis lock her in her room and plan a match with the presumably rich "Lord Barkis Bittern" instead; Victoria, completely absorbed and troubled by Victor's disappearance, is too despondent to object. Unknown to the others, Barkis intends to kill Victoria and make off with the fortune he believes she has.

Victor apologizes to Emily for his deception, and Emily's love for him is renewed as he starts falling in love with her as well. Suddenly, an old acquaintance of Victor's dies and arrives in the Land of the Dead, delivering the news of Victoria's engagement, leaving Victor distraught. Emily, meanwhile, learns that her marriage to Victor is not official: the marriage vows bind the couple until "death do they part" and as Emily is already dead, the marriage won't apply to them until Victor is dead as well. The only way to validate their matrimony is if they return to the Land of the Living where they must re-recite their vows, after which Victor must kill himself by drinking the "Wine of Ages", an extremely potent poison. Emily does not believe Victor would ever want to bring such a grisly fate to himself, but Victor, thinking that Victoria has moved on with her life without him, decides to make the best of his situation below and agrees to carry out the ceremony.

As Victoria and Barkis are married, the residents of the Land of the Dead busy themselves preparing for a wedding of their own, rising up to the Land of the Living, storming the town and having a chaotic marriage "celebration" on their way to the church. In the ensuing chaos, the newly-wed Lord Barkis finally realizes that Victoria is penniless and is enraged. Meanwhile, there the villagers panic when their town is invaded by the dead, until both sides suddenly recognize their loved ones and are overjoyed by the temporary reunion.

Victoria heads for the church, and arrives as Victor is in the midst of the ceremony that will kill him. Emily spots the heartbroken Victoria, and realizes that Victor's death, while making her happy, will cheat Victoria out of a happy life herself. Emily calls off the ceremony and gives Victor back to Victoria. The reunion is interrupted by Lord Barkis, who reminds the crowd that Victoria is still his wife, and moves to kidnap her at sword point. Emily is shocked and horrified as she recognizes Barkis as the man who not only jilted, but murdered and robbed her long ago. A sword fight ensues between Barkis and Victor (with Victor wielding a dinner fork tossed to him by a dead cook). Barkis corners Victor and is just about to jam his sword into Victor's stomach, when Emily rushes between them and blocks the blow with her chest, saving Victor's life while leaving herself completely unscathed.

A seething Emily orders Barkis to leave, which he smugly does. The rest of the dead, outraged at what he did to Emily, try to stop him, but they are unable to interfere since he is of the living and therefore not under their power. But before leaving, he proposes a mock-toast to Emily, "always the bridesmaid, never the bride", and drinks the wine intended for Victor. Of course, as he turns to leave, he realizes too late that the wine is poisoned and dies within seconds. Now that he is one of them, the other dead are able to avenge Emily by dragging him through a side-door to make his afterlife a living hell.

Emily explains to Victor and Victoria that they belong together. When Victor protests, saying that he had made a promise, she explains that he had already kept it by setting her free, and that now she shall do the same for him. She pauses as she leaves the church to toss her bouquet to Victoria, and continues outside. As she reaches the threshold of the church, Emily finds peace herself and her body transforms into hundreds of night butterflies, which soar towards the moon. Victor and Victoria look on together at the sight, free to be married and live happily ever after together.

Cast of characters

Voice cast

Character English voice actor German voice actor Spanish voice actor Latin Spanish voice actor Japanese voice actor
Victor Van Dort Johnny Depp David Nathan Roger Pera Roberto Mendiola Hidenobu Kiuchi
Emily, the Corpse Bride Helena Bonham Carter Melanie Pukaß Mar Roca Cynthia Alfonzo Kaori Yamagata
Victoria Everglot Emily Watson Heidrun Batholomäus Graciela Molina Maggie Vera Sayaka Kobayashi
Nell Van Dort Tracey Ullman Dagmar Biener Concha García Valero Anabel Méndez N/A
Hildegarde Tracey Ullman N/A N/A N/A N/A
William Van Dort Paul Whitehouse Bodo Wolf Javier Viñas Ismael Castro N/A
Mayhew Paul Whitehouse N/A N/A César Izaguirre N/A
Paul the Head Waiter Paul Whitehouse N/A N/A Luis Alfonso Mendoza N/A
Maudeline Everglot Joanna Lumley Kerstin Sanders-Dornseif Aurora García María Santander Tomoko Miyadera
Finis Everglot Albert Finney Jürgen Kluckert Jordi Vila Armando Rendíz Takaya Hashi
Barkis Bittern Richard E. Grant Lutz Mackensy Óscar Barberán José Luis Orozco Jin Yamanoi
Pastor Galswells Christopher Lee Otto Mellies Josep María Ullod Rubén Moya Iemasa Kayumi
Elder Gutknecht Michael Gough Wolfgang Völz Santiago Cortés Francisco Colmenero N/A
Black Widow Jane Horrocks N/A N/A N/A N/A
Mrs. Plum Jane Horrocks N/A N/A N/A N/A
Maggot Enn Reitel Michael Pan José Javier Serrano N/A N/A
Town Crier Enn Reitel N/A N/A N/A N/A
General Bonesapart Deep Roy Stefan Krause Juan Fernández Ernesto Lezama N/A
Bonejangles Danny Elfman Thomas Fritsch Jordi Boixaderas Gerardo Vázquez N/A
Emil Stephen Ballantyne N/A N/A N/A N/A
Solemn Village Boy Lisa Kay N/A N/A N/A N/A

Filming techniques

Corpse Bride is the first movie to be shot with still cameras. Previous stop-motion movies (such as Aardman Animations' Chicken Run) were shot on modified Mitchell film cameras, the same old cameras used to shoot King Kong. As confirmed by American Cinematographer (October 2005), the camera chosen for the production of Corpse Bride was Canon EOS-1D Mark II, a digital single-lens reflex camera, which also makes it the first stop-motion feature to be shot in digital. Additional work was required to develop systems to permit precise camera positioning, the mounting of Canon optical lenses, and previewing a scene in camera. Corpse Bride was the first stop-motion animated film to use Apple's Final Cut Pro as well. To give the film the traditional look of movie film stock, each image was processed with a color profile based on a type of film used in feature length movies.

The film was the first stop-motion animated movie to use the new "gear and paddle" technique for the maquette's heads. This new system involved the maquettes being built with a complex gear system inside of the main character's heads. The various gears were attached to external paddles. A soft skin-like material, mainly made of silicone and foam, was placed over these paddles to create the head and then painted. By adjusting the gears, done by inserting an allen wrench into small holes located on the maquette's head and in the ears, the paddles would move, therefore adjusting the facial expression of the character. This allowed for a much more smooth system of emotion change and lip-sync than the old style of replacing heads. The soft "skin" also gave the characters a much more natural look.

The puppets were made in Altrincham, near Manchester, England, by the leading puppet manufacturers Mackinnon and Saunders. They were also responsible for a major contribution to another Tim Burton film (Mars Attacks!), as well as numerous British animated series like Bob the Builder (Hit Entertainment), Andy Pandy (Cosgrove Hall) and Pingu (Hit Entertainment).


The origin of the folktale can be traced back to Rabbi Isaac Luria of Safed, a 16th century mystic. In the original folktale, "The Finger", the "corpse bride" in question is not a deceased woman, but a demon. In the 19th century Russian-Jewish adaptation, a woman is killed on her wedding day and is buried in her wedding gown. Later, a man on his way to his own wedding sees her ring finger poking out of the ground and thinks that it's a stick. As a joke, he puts his bride's wedding ring on the finger and dances around it, singing and reciting his marriage sacrament. The woman's corpse emerges from the ground (with the man's ring on her finger) and declares herself married to the man.

The folktale adaptation was born of the anti-Jewish Russian pogroms of the 19th century, in which young women were said to have been ripped from their carriages and killed on the way to their weddings. The folktale usually ends with the rabbis deciding to annul the corpse's marriage and the live bride swearing that she will live her marriage in the corpse's memory, part of the Jewish tradition of honoring the dead through the lives and good works of the living.

A similar motif has also been used by Prosper Mérimée in his story La Vénus d'Ille Instead of the corpse bride, the ancient statue of Venus figures in the story.

The allegorical theme of the two brides, one living and one dead, occurs from ancient times in Christian (especially monastic) spirituality. The first evidence comes from the fourth century. It focuses on the differing meanings of the English word "love", which come out better in Latin. Christian love, or "caritas" (hence the English "charity"), is the willful seeking for the good of the other person in all ways. "Amor", which is the main meaning of the word in modern English, concerns the emotional and passionate attraction to the other person. In the allegory, "caritas" is the living, shy, quiet bride (i.e. "Victoria"), whereas "amor" is the dead, extrovert, flagrant bride (i.e. "Emily"). The lesson is that "amor" by itself is selfish and essentially dead, and can only be redeemed by making way for (and being incorporated into) "caritas", which is the true love for the other.

A recurring image through the movie is that of a blue butterfly, ranging from a drawing Victor makes at the beginning, using a live model, to the Corpse Bride herself dissolving into mass of butterflies. This resonates with a European folktale in which a brutally murdered woman would be reborn as a butterfly.

Box office

The film debuted at number 2 with $19.1 million, behind Flightplan. The film closed with a total of $53,400,000 domestically and an estimated $117,195,061 worldwide.


The soundtrack was written by Danny Elfman with the help of John August and released on 20th September 2005. It contains all of the music from the film including score music and four songs with lyrics sung by voice actors.

DVD release

The DVD was released in the US on January 31, 2006. The film has also been released in the Blu-Ray and HD DVD formats. These releases include featurettes on the shooting and production of the film, as well as an isolated score. The image of Emily on the DVD cover and a poster with the same image is mirrored. Her skeletal features in the film (her left arm, right leg, exposed ribs, etc.) are opposite to those in the image.

See also

External links

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