The spooky timelessness of Tim Burton’s ‘Corpse Bride’ endures


Courtesy of Giandomenico Ricci

‘Corpse Bride’ was released in the United States on Sept. 23, 2005. It was nominated for best animated feature at the 78th Academy Awards.

Every year, I look forward to my personal Halloween traditions. The list is quite small, but essential in making me feel connected to the season: bake those Pillsbury ghost sugar cookies, make my apartment simultaneously smell like pumpkin bread and a warm hearth and, of course, watch some of my all-time favorite films.

As for the last  item, my film of choice is Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride” (usually watched alone at 2 a.m. on some random night in October), and each year, among dark solitude and absolute cinematic bliss, I find something new to admire about it. 

Visually lovely and equal parts eerie, the claymation movie takes place in two settings: the world of the living (a chilling 1800s Victorian village) and the world of the dead. The world of the living is as gloomy and lackluster as death itself, while the world of the dead is ironically much livelier, both in color palette and spirit. As the Corpse Bride herself says, ““Why go up there when people are dying to come down here?”

Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter bring characters Victor Van Dort and Emily the Corpse Bride to life with a vibrancy strong enough to shine in the world of the dead. At the start of the movie, Victor is arranged by his parents to marry Victoria Everglot (Emily Watson), the timid yet sweet daughter of poor aristocrats. A bundle of nerves, Victor cannot get his vows down and scampers into the forest to practice. After placing the wedding ring on a finger-like twig of oddly limb-like branches, all hell freezes over as he finds himself betrothed to the Corpse Bride — and now a citizen of the other side. 

While Burton’s characteristically unsettling figures spark fear, discomfort and even disgust, Victor and Emily are a comfort. Emily breathes life into death with her wistfulness, fond memories and dreams. Burton’s landscapes, ridden with contorted trees and bathed in the light of a giant full moon, are also a sight to see. Musicals can be very hit or miss, often treading the thin line between cheesy and enjoyable, but the musical numbers add to the story beautifully, explaining major plot points as the movie progresses. 

Upon returning to the land of the living for the first time since being taken from it, Emily is thrilled. Watching her bask and twirl in the moonlit forest conjures a tranquility that only this time of year offers me. It feels natural and so very calming. To watch this movie any other month just doesn’t seem right, even 15 years later.